Dr. David Tager on transgender issues

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COLUMBIA - Nineteen-year-old Toddy Jenkins, a transgender male, may have been new to the world he had just become a part of, but was not unfamiliar with feeling unfamiliar. 

“I always had this feeling for the longest time that I didn’t fit like this, and I always thought that if I ignored it long enough it would go away," Jenkins said. "It wasn’t until recently I decided it was maybe better to confront these feelings instead of ignoring them.”

Just last year, Jenkins joined the ranks of others who identify with a sex different than that printed on their birth certificate. A group the world has really only started to understand in recent years.

“We know way more than we used to about how people identify because we started asking," Susan Pereira, a local physician, said. "And started making it hopefully okay for people to be out.”

But understanding did not reach everybody. 

Gender accessibility has become a controversial topic nationwide, highlighted by several so-called "bathroom bills" that aim to institute policies requiring students to use restrooms and locker rooms according to their biological sex. 

Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, sponsored Senate Bill 98, Missouri's version of the legislation. The bill applies to public schools, kindergarten through grade 12, and higher education. 

"Senate Bill 98 is kind of the result of some of the things that have been going on at the federal level, which have changed somewhat with the new administration in terms of issuing new mandates for schools and how they deal with certain unusual and uncommon behaviors," he said.

Emery said he felt the legislature needed to do "something that accommodated the safety of every student, and the privacy of every student."

Opponents of the bill say it's unnecessary and hurtful.

"These laws are discriminatory, and they're unfair," said psychologist Dr. David Tager, who specializes in LGBTQ issues. "Do we want to have people being checked at bathrooms for birth certificates? Is that what we want? Do you want to be checked to needs a birth certificate to show? We shouldn't be doing that.This is just another way of discriminating."

KOMU 8 News asked viewers what they thought of the legislation, and found that fear was at the center of the issue on both sides. (See survey results.)

“It’s just that we are opening a door by letting them do that, opening a door to make it easier for the people who do have bad things in mind," one supporter, Donna Morris, said. 

“I'm afraid that I might face some of the hate and bigotry I’ve seen. You see these stories in the news of transgender people being murdered simply for existing, and I don’t understand that," Jenkins said. 

Kevin Carnahan, a professor of philosophy and religion, said understanding where that fear comes from is key. 

“Okay, because we look at something as normal, does that mean it’s the only way to do things, does that mean it’s the good way to be?" Carnahan said. "How much do we need to recognize the rights of people who are not like us, or the rights of people who don’t line up in exactly the way we’re used to?”

Supporters of the bill say their fear stems from safety concerns for themselves and their children. 

Donna Morris, from Camden, said she supports the rights of transgender individuals, but said she has rights, too. 

“We don’t really know what their motives may be, we can’t tell, there’s just no way to tell," Morris said. "That’s why we lock our doors. We don’t suspect everyone in our neighborhoods going to walk in but we don’t know.”

Opponents of the bill say also say their fear stems from safety concerns. 

The Missouri bill would require transgender people to either use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificate, or use a separate bathroom designated for transgender individuals.

Carnahan said 75 percent of transgender adults report that when they were in school they were harassed, and a large number of them were assaulted for their gender identity. For this reason, he said, many of them stay hidden. 

"This basically means they are required to out themselves to everyone in their community as transgender, which opens themselves up to abuse," Carnahan said. “What’s at stake isn’t just whether people feel comfortable. What’s at stake is some really serious things about whether individuals are safe, whether they’re getting bullied, whether they’re getting harassed.”

To see the full interviews with Emery and Tager, click on the thumbnails above.