The maleficent U.S Education Secretary Betsy DeVos kicked off the school year by visiting a private school that bans transgender students and teachers. At the same time, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) implemented new Guidelines to Support Transgender and Gender Expansive Students for public school-based teachers and staff. While those two events are diametrically opposed, two other facts go hand in hand. Transgender students or students who are gender nonconforming exist. And like all kids, they have the right to attend school free of fear. So, it is undeniable that we need transgender awareness in schools. Every. Single. Day.
As a PFLAG NYC Safe Schools Program presenter, I see firsthand – in classrooms and at professional development workshops – how necessary these new NYC DOE guidelines are.
The whys behind the need.
I’ve talked with trans and gender nonconforming children who aren’t accepted by their families or who are bullied by classmates. I have met many teachers who are unclear what it means to be transgender, or who don’t know the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. I’ve heard other Safe Schools Program speakers share how their young trans kids come home with wet pants because they’re afraid to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. If that situation happens just once, that child is in crisis. And as a result, that family is in crisis.
I lost many nights of sleep when Harry was bullied in middle school for his gender expression. And often, I couldn’t concentrate at work. When your child isn’t affirmed at school, you default to panic and anxiety. Because if a student doesn’t feel safe, they can’t learn.
Maybe that’s not your child. An underrepresented child at school isn’t going to show up on your radar until it’s part of your experience. But I guarantee it applies to one of your child’s classmates. If we want all children to feel safe in school, we need transgender awareness in schools.
Guidelines are necessary.
The NYC DOE is familiar with the 2017 research that shows transgender and gender nonconforming youth (trans/GNC) are experiencing extremely hostile climates in U.S. schools. In a nutshell:
- Nearly 84% of trans and 70% of GNC students were bullied because of their gender.
- Over 4 in 10 trans/GNC students faced gender-related discrimination at school.
- Almost half of trans/GNC students were required to use the incorrect bathroom.
The NYC DOE’s guidelines are lengthy, but comprehensive. Here’s their guiding principle: All students have the right to have their gender, gender identity and gender expression recognized and respected by their school community.
The guidelines serve as a resource to further the understanding of gender identity, gender expression and sexuality in schools. And there are some important “musts”:
- All staff and students must refer to students by chosen names and pronouns, and non-permanent records must reflect these.
- Students must be provided access to facilities consistent with their gender identity asserted at school.
- Students must participate in all school activities in accordance with their gender identity.
- Any staff member must immediately report student-on-student harassment, discrimination, bullying and/or intimidation.
Now, here’s my must: Teachers and staff must have the proper resources to create safe, supportive and inclusive school. That may seem impossible with a federal government that wants to erase trans people. But states need laws and school districts need mandates to affirm and support trans/GNC youth. Those kids thrive when they feel safe in their school environment. We need transgender awareness in all schools. Now.
Note: If you’re trying to figure out which child in the header photo is transgender or gender expansive, I have no idea. Just assume that in any group of kids, at least one identifies as trans/GNC.
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