Approaches to Transgender Politics and Inequality in Political Science

By Zein Murib

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North Carolina’s HB2, which was recently signed into law, criminalizes transgender and gender nonconforming people for using restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities. The rapid passage of the bill in just 24-hours that didn’t allow for public comment or debate, as well as the claim that HB2 legislates discrimination against people who are trans and gender nonconforming, has drawn widespread scrutiny from across North Carolina and the U.S. An unlikely chorus of voices have come together to call for repeal, including interest groups, activists, governors, mayors, universities, and big business as well as an informal cultural ban that has resulted in Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelling upcoming performances in North Carolina.

Although most of the media attention has been directed to North Carolina, legislation such as HB2 is not singular. Similar “bathroom bills” have been introduced or debated in a growing list of states that include Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, all of which seek to specify in varying ways that – in the language of North Carolina’s HB2 – people can only use facilities corresponding to their “biological sex as on a person’s birth certificate.”

I have written elsewhere about the implications of these bills for people who are transgender and gender nonconforming. Here, I address two different questions: What are these “bathroom bills” and how can we, as political scientists, use these contemporary political developments to teach about transgender politics and inequality in our courses?

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Transgender Visibility and Political Inclusion

By Zein Murib

photo by Armando Trull

photo by Armando Trull

The invitation to write for this blog arrived the night before two major news stories pertaining to transgender people broke. First, Caitlyn Jenner’s long-awaited acceptance of the Arthur Ash Award at the ESPYs, and the issuance of an 18-page memorandum from Immigration Custody and Enforcement (ICE) to guide the care of transgender detainees. While the sudden explosion of media attention for transgender people hardly makes the publication of these news stories unique, I highlight two specific articles covering these transgender events below in order to foreground some of the contentions I make about transgender political identity in my forthcoming Politics, Groups, and Identities piece (available online here). I do so with two goals in mind. The first is to offer a primer for political scientists interested in learning about transgender as an identity category. The second is to briefly call attention to the marginalization that occurs within the transgender category, especially in light of the significant gains made by some transgender people in the public spotlight.

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