Standing in the Margins

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My job as an educator is to help kids become good human beings.  Part of that involves living the things you teach.  In doing so, I have had to speak for those whose voices are least heard.  I have had to stand between those that hate and those who are hated.  This is part of my job, not for some students, but for all of them.

Several years ago teaching first grade, I met a student that changed my perspective on many things.  She joined my class in January.  Immediately it was difficult to fit in, but over time she slowly started feeling more comfortable.  Even so, I noticed she tried hard not to be noticed.  In a class of sixteen, it is hard to blend in.  While she was starting to make friends and growth, I had worries about the future and I was concerned..  

During my time with her, we developed trust, both with one another, and with the her family.  Fast forward two years and I found out she was about to make a public transition to her true gender identity in our school.  As a third grader, she was about to become herself in public for the first time.  

One of the things that struck me was that we had such a good relationship, the classroom had been such a welcoming place for her, yet she and her parents were not ready.  Our community embraced her transition as well as I could have hoped.  She has known great friendship, caring teachers, and a generally safe school.  Even in a supportive community she faces serious discrimination.

I share all of this because I have seen firsthand the benefit of this girl being able to express her true self.  While she had become part of the culture of the school, she had yet to thrive until she could be herself.

Knowing her, seeing how her life has changed since she was able to transition, is what draws me to this cause.  Knowing her makes this real.  She isn’t a trans girl, or a trans person. She is a girl, she is a person.  Her rights ought to be the same as any other person.  Her rights are important, and so are the rights of every other trans person.  Here is why:

Being around trans children exposes children to diversity that will help them learn to understand people who are different than themselves.

Perhaps the most frequent argument against policies in place to protect the rights of Transgender youth expresses that being exposed to trans kids will somehow corrupt or damage their children’s sense of morality and virtue.  It is easy to be moral and virtuous in a bubble.  What makes a person truly virtuous is the ability to treat people well when their views or norms do not conform to their own.  Our children will be faced with a world full of incredible diversity outside this bubble.  If we continue to insulate our children to “protect them” we do them an incredible disservice.  Trans youth are not invaders of morality and virtue, they are children; children that deserve the same right to feel safe as any other person.  

There is should be no argument from a religious standpoint for two reasons.  First, we are talking about rights in public places in our country, our state, and our schools.  Religious values are not the law, but there are a number of laws already in place that defend our students from discrimination.  The issue is that these laws are reactionary.  In this case a trans student must have been harmed in order to invoke the laws.  Are we saying that some people only get protection after they have been injured?  The second is from a religious angle itself.  The strongest opposition to Trans rights comes from Christians.  Let that settle in.  Christ was a man who washed the feet of sinners, who accepted the least desirable social groups of the time in the same way he did anyone else, and who loved everyone.  If he felt people were sinners he prayed for them.  I won’t try and dissuade anyone of their beliefs, but if you believe in the teachings of Christianity, then you should love all people.  Discriminating against Trans youth and Trans people is a form of hate, and goes against the very values Christ sought to teach.

Trans children are at the greatest risk of suicide and self harm of any group.

At this point nobody should be surprised by this statistic and yet it needs to be part of EVERY discussion of Trans rights.  According to a 2009 study by GLSEN 82% of Trans students felt unsafe at school.  Nearly 50% of them had reported skipping classes or days of school because they felt unsafe.  Nearly 90% of Trans students reported having been verbally harassed at school, and 44% reported being physically assaulted in the past year.  There are dozens more equally horrifying numbers associated with Trans youth from this study.

You may argue that the study is 8 years old, so things are better now, right? Wrong.

In a 2015 study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital they reported 30% of Trans youth (aka CHILDREN) have attempted suicide.  That number is nearly seven times higher than the 4.5% of average youth in America.  It also stated that a staggering 42% of Trans youth had attempted some form of self injury.  According to Trans rights activists, these numbers are low.  Even so, they point to an alarmingly important conclusion: Trans youth are the most marginalized, unprotected group in American schools, and it is literally killing them.

Trans  children are still children.

This is all there is to say.  These are children, struggling to make sense of a world that has not embraced them.  At the same time they want what every child wants, and they deserve the same right to a free and appropriate public education.  Unfortunately it will not be free of discrimination no matter what policies are passed, but it is our job as educators and schools to make them feel as safe as possible and enable them to learn.

But…

Here are the arguments being used to negate trans rights.

What about my child? Exposing them to this will corrupt them? (Go back and read above)  Exposing your child to people other than themselves provides them with an opportunity to learn.  If we hope for our children to be successful, moral, and virtuous people, they will need to learn to exercise such virtues in diverse situations.  Being a good person means being a good person to everyone, even those with whom you disagree. (Despite my feeling that disagreeing with a person who is attempting to be themselves is wrong, the value judgement is insignificant.  Either way, being a good person involves treating others with the respect and dignity they deserve simply because they are another human being.)

This is a state’s rights issue.

“If it isn’t in the Constitution then it is a state’s rights issue”  This argument is what I am referring to with kids when I explain the value of learning history.  We, as a country, have tried many times to make civil rights a state’s rights issue.  Each time we have seen the interests of the strong in a number of places trample upon the civil rights of the few.  Civil rights, human rights, are not an issue for the states to decide.  If we, as a nation, cannot uphold Civil rights for our citizens, what kind of nation have we become?  If you are arguing state’s rights outweigh Civil rights, you will find yourself on the wrong side of history again and again.  Trans people are human beings, they are citizens of this country and as such, legally deserve to have the same rights as anyone else.  (Notice again, your opinion on Transgender expression doesn’t matter. This is simply a case of attempting to limit the rights of a particular group of people, which isn’t legal or morally right.)

What if men just decide to start using the women’s bathroom?

What if cafeteria workers just decided to start putting fingernails in the food? We could play this game all day because it is simply absurd.  But, for the sake of those who don’t realize this, I will indulge.

There simply aren’t cases of Transgender people assaulting others in restrooms.  In the 18 states that have laws protecting trans people’s right to use the facility of the gender they live every day, none have seen an increase in sexual assault in restrooms.  What there are however, are statistics that support the opposite.  In a 2009 survey done by UCLA’s WIlliams Institute, nearly 70% of transgender participants report having been denied entrance to or verbally abused when attempting to use the restroom.  9% reported being physically attacked.  I cannot imagine being physically attacked for needing to use the restroom, but for trans people the fear is a reality.

So let’s return to those men who want to use the women’s bathroom.  A man who would intentionally violate another person’s privacy while they use the restroom has a name: sex offender.  Someone who would perform a heinous act like this is not going to be saved from their depraved actions because of legality.  When we start legislating against other people’s rights because we assume Americans are so morally reprehensible, we have a problem.  Not only would this defense of a criminal activity not suffice, it should not be the basis for endangering the health and well being of American citizens, and American children.

We have an opportunity. Here and now, we have the opportunity to speak for those who have no voice.  We have the opportunity to stand in opposition of hatred.  We have the opportunity to demonstrate our moral virtue to others in the world.  If we don’t have the courage to protect the most vulnerable of our kids, we do not deserve the schools we claim to love.  Our job is to help create good, well rounded human beings by providing all kids with education in a safe and nurturing environment. Don’t talk about doing what is best for kids if you are not willing to stand for those kids most in danger and provide them with some hope of a safe learning environment.  Take this opportunity now and start living the messages and values we try to instill in our children by standing for these children who have been pushed into the margins.

 

*several articles and studies have been referenced in this post:

Borello, Stevie.  (April 22, 2016) Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations Debunk ‘Bathroom Predator Myth”, ABCNews.  Retrieved from: www.abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-organizations-debunk-bathroom-predator/story?id=38604019

Brady, Jeff. (May 15, 2016). When a Transgender Person Uses a Public Bathroom, Who is at Risk?, National Public Radio. Retrieved from:  www.npr.org/2016/05/15/477954537/when-a-transgender-person-uses-a-public-bathroom-who-is-at-risk

Graytek, Emily A., Kosciw PhD, Joseph G., Diaz, Elizabeth M. (2009).  Harsh Realities-The Experience of Transgender Youth in our Nation’s Schools, GLSEN, Retrieved from: www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/Harsh%20Realities.pdf
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “High rates of suicide and self-harm among transgender youth.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160831110833.htm

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4 thoughts on “Standing in the Margins

  1. A gentle counter-argument:
    The harm done to women when a person with male genitalia comes into the changing room, or to men when a person with female genitalia comes in, is not in the risk of assault. It has to do with moral and/or religious understandings of modesty.

    My conscience does not permit me to be less than fully dressed in front of a person not of the same sex (very young children excepted). This isn’t a rare moral scruple; it’s the reason we have sex-segregated bathrooms and changing rooms in the first place.

    It makes all the sense in the world to require schools and other institutions to offer a unisex option for students who are in danger using the bathroom designated for their sex. But we are crossing a line when we then say everyone else must violate their consciences, if necessary.

    • I appreciate your viewpoint, it is extremely thoughtful. As someone who does not use women’s restrooms, I am not sure exactly how they differ from Men’s rooms. In every Men’s room I have ever been in, there is a distinct effort to avoid exposing genitalia to others while attempting to use the restroom.
      Unisex options are great. I personally would prefer to use a single restroom than one built for a group. Sometimes it isn’t an option. As I understand it, you would be unlikely in most cases to know if someone with male genitalia actually was using the restroom with you. Their intent isn’t to expose themselves, it is to safely exist in public spaces and in mostly just use the bathroom.

      • It depends on the situation, but in some women’s rooms (or their associated waiting rooms) it’s not unusual to change clothes. I wouldn’t change a shirt outside a stall in a store or a stadium, but I might at church or in school, if it was crowded. And in locker rooms, of course, nakedness is to be expected; that’s what they’re for.

        I fully understand that no one is in the bathroom with the *purpose* of exposing themselves to others. But there are people around whom I can be naked without moral consequence and people I can’t. By redefining who is potentially admitted into my sex’s bathroom and changing areas, they’ve essentially become no different from public places for me. It’s the same as if the cubicle was set up in the hallway. (For men who share my restrictions of conscience, the urinal becomes a whole new question. I guess they just wait for a stall?)

  2. I 100% agree with the belief that transgender students have every right to be present and supported in our schools. If it is our job to prepare students for “the real world” then we need each of them to interact with every type of person in this world.

    I would also agree that the use of a unisex bathroom for transgender students in a school setting is the best option, if possible.

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