An Open Letter to a certain New York Superintendent of Schools:
It has come to my attention that one of your students is having a difficult time at school. This student happens to be transgender. I, too, have a transgender student. My son is 14, and a sophomore at “Another High School.” I am writing because I believe we all have a responsibility to do the best we can for ALL of our students. Since my son has come out, I have learned a lot about transgender kids. Some of the beliefs and assumptions I held previously have been disproven and debunked by my own research. It really doesn’t take much time to learn what’s best for these kids, and it often takes very little effort to help them out, making them more successful academically and socially. They may sometimes have different needs than other kids, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to accommodate them.
And these kids need our help. Did you know that…
– 74.1% of LGBT students were verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation; 55.2% were harassed because of their gender expression (acting “too masculine” or “too feminine”).
– The average grade point average (GPA) for LGBT students who were frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was significantly lower than that of LGBT students experiencing less harassment.
– Approximately 30% of LGBT students reported skipping a class at least once in the past month and missing at least one full day of school in the past month because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe at school.
– Most LGBT students who are harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff. The most common reason they gave for not reporting was that they believed staff would not do anything about it.
It’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and administration to set the example. Creating school environments that respect and affirm gender diversity will empower all students rather than limit them. They may sometimes have different needs than other kids, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to accommodate them. In fact, it’s in everybody’s best interest to create an atmosphere where ALL children can thrive.
“Another High School” has done an awesome job of accommodating and supporting their LGBTQ youth. I would urge you, your Board, your teachers, and administration to look into this topic, as they have at “Another.” As our society is becoming more understanding and compassionate, LGBTQ kids are beginning to feel comfortable enough to show themselves, to come out. They are becoming accomplished, passionate, creative, productive members of our society. They are our children, our neighbors, our nieces, and nephews, our cousins, our friends, our cashiers, our bankers, our grocers, our teachers, our pastors. The longer we live, the more we will see LGBT folks enjoying every aspect of life that the rest of us have enjoyed for so long. The more we can educate ourselves and each other, the better we will all be.
Two simple, easy to read, and free resources I would suggest are Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools (https://www.genderspectrum.org/staging/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Schools-in-Transition-2015.pdf) and SAFE SPACE KIT: A Guide to Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Your School (https://www.glsen.org/…/GLSEN%20Safe%20Space%20Kit.pdf).
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Yes, my friends, I am going out on a limb to tell you – there IS hope! Yesterday’s elections gave me a glimmer. “Danica Roem became the first out trans person to be elected to a state legislature – by beating a virulent anti-LGBT politician… Andrea Jenkins became the first trans woman of colour elected in the nation after winning a 73% landslide in Minneapolis’s Eighth Ward to give her a place on the City Council… Nearly 40 years after Milk took office, Lisa Middleton became the first openly transgender person elected to political office in the state [California]…” And, “Pennsylvania also broke its trans barrier, as Tyler Titus became the first openly trans person to be elected in the state.”[www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/11/08/50-years-after-the-uss-first-gay-politician-lesbians-and-trans-people-smashed-barriers/]
Yes, that’s four – count ’em FOUR! – out trans folks elected to public office, and pretty big ones, too! Long way to go? Of course, but let’s just celebrate for today. Join me in being cautiously optimistic, won’t you?
When traversing the land of LGBT knowledge, we cis folks may find ourselves lacking. We might not know the right word or phrase. We are curious about a certain subject or how one feels about a thing. And while we may be well-intentioned, we may not realize that 1.) there are certain things that are just none of our damn business and 2.) there may be a better way, as well as a time and a place, to ask.
In her article Transformations: Transgender 101 – the Dos and Don’ts, Melinda Harris says the following:
“When interacting with transgender people in any setting, the most important thing to remember is to respect each person and their identity and experience. The important thing is how they feel inside – not how they look outside – just as we all hope that people will treat us according to who we are and not how we appear.”
Melinda says that although we may be curious, one of the first things we should ask ourselves before asking questions to our potential new friend is “Do I really need to know?” If the answer is “Probably not,” then don’t ask. If you are that curious, there are other places to find answers (All hail the almighty Google). In other words, let’s remember not to treat anyone like a bug under a microscope, but as a person.
Imagine this person is your grandmother’s best friend. We’ll call her Eleanor. Would you ask Eleanor about her genitals? Of course, you wouldn’t! (At least, I hope you wouldn’t. Not on the first meeting!) Would you ask her if she takes hormones? Would you ask about medical procedures? Would you ask Eleanor if she is a man or a woman? Or if she used to have a different name? No, you’d “be polite,” just like your mother used to whisper harshly at you under her breath as you were walking into your grandmother’s house.
In the end, it’s really that simple. Be polite to every Eleanor you meet.
What a good year last school year was. My kid was called by his chosen name. Most of the time the pronouns were right. There was very little nonsense, really.
This year, there’s a new principal, a new nurse and two of his favorite teachers were moved to different schools. Talk about starting from scratch.
The first day of school, he walked into classes to see his birth name and photo projected on the whiteboard for the seating assignments. Teachers who knew him last year were accidentally calling him by his birth name because the same tool they use for seating charts is what they use for roll call, which is also “the official school record” so they refuse to change it. Why could they do it last year but they can’t this year? I can’t seem to get an answer to that question.
And here’s some hypocrisy for ya, they won’t change his name or find a way to keep his birth name confidential, which is what they say in their policy that they will do, but there’s a link on the school’s website to this article:
Transgender youth are looking, first and foremost, for adults to respect their chosen names and pronouns. Making this effort validates young people’s core identity and solidifies their safety. Without it, a trusted relationship cannot be built.
“Do you think he’ll, you know, change his mind?” she asks, in the kindest, most concerned way possible. Because she IS kind, and concerned. She cares about my son. My trans son. A child not related to her. A child she has no obligation to care for. And yet, she does care. And has illustrated that care in concrete ways. Yes, gifts, but also showing up, kind words – you know, the real stuff. The stuff you remember. The things that count.
And her questions, while they are difficult to hear from the ump-teenth person, are understandable to me. They are more difficult for my son to wrap his head around, I think. Partly because he is 13. But even more so, I think, because he is just who he is. He doesn’t fit into our rigid stereotypes of what a “boy” is or what a “girl” is. He likes what he likes – that’s all.
People don’t get why, if he “feels like a boy,” he sometimes tries on lipstick. Or how, if he prefers he/him pronouns, he might also enjoy a pedicure sometimes. Why, they wonder, doesn’t he want to lift weights to bulk up? Or play sports?
“Gender is a spectrum,” I say.
Frequently, they look at me in confusion, furrowed brow, head cocked, as if my answer is a riddle. I suppose it’s a bit glib, but really – what would you have me say? I don’t know! I don’t know why he likes what he does! I’m his mother, not his shrink.
I do know that I’m very feminine in a lot of ways, but I like powertools. I like to feel strong and powerful sometimes, and other times, I like to feel soft and delicate. And yet, no one asks me why I like tools. Or why I like to get my hands dirty.
And in the grand scheme of things, does it matter?