I have been very fortunate to have been asked into elementary, middle and high schools to conduct all-staff trainings on gender inclusion and working with transgender students. Currently the media is abuzz with the new law in California, AB 1266, which beginning January 1st, 2014 will grant transgender students, grades K – 12, equal rights and access to restrooms, locker rooms, and activities that align with their gender identity, not what sex marker is on their birth certificate.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when it comes to transgender students and schools there are two fears that run the debate, the first being, the fear of having different genitals in a restroom or locker room, and the second being having an unfair advantage on the playing field.
I have been in both conservative and liberal school districts conducting trainings with teachers and staff about the importance of having school policies that are inclusive to transgender students. I work to try and dispel the fears that people may have about transgender students by first posing the question, “Why is it, that when someone says they are transgender, people automatically zoom into a person’s genital region and then pin the words ‘sexual predator’ onto the transgender person?” The truth of the matter is, transgender people are not running into restrooms and locker rooms to flash their nude bodies and then zoom in on the other bodies in the locker rooms. When a transgender student enters a restroom or locker room, they are going in to do what every other person does, either use the facilities or change their clothing to participate in the school activities. I know for myself, I’m very shy in locker rooms and have no desire to see what other people are doing in the restroom. I’m guessing this is the same for other folks.
The second point I try to bring across to the audience is that as a public institution they are there to serve all students, not just the majority or a select group. I truly to believe that compassion is what drives people to teaching. Compassion not only for the topics they teach, but the kids that are in their classrooms. What is not compassionate is the way conservative news channels have taken stories of schools working to accommodate transgender students and turned them into sensationalized demonizing of these children.
I think we, as adults, all need to stop for a second and ask ourselves, what behaviors can result from our actions? The reality is LGBT kids frequently face harassment both verbal and physical in their schools. In fact, the 2011 Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) National Climate Survey(1) reports that 8 out of 10 LGBT identified students experience frequent harassment with 56.9% reporting hearing derogatory remarks from teachers and staff. They also reported that 80% of transgender students felt unsafe at their school because of their gender identity and expression. What is even more alarming is another national survey reports, “more than 50% of Transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.” (2)
In looking at these statistics, it is clearly apparent that we need protections and policies that helps protect our transgender youth, just as we would want for any other kid. I encourage parents and media that do not understand transgender issues to get educated on the topic because if you truly are educated and if you see the experiences that the trans youth and families go through, compassion would overrule your ignorance and choices to twist stories for your ratings.
This isn’t about money, this is about lives.