Back to School

Gearing up for “Back to School” can be a huge stressor on families with transgender kids. There are aspects about coming out and living authentically that the whole family faces.

By Melissa Ballard

Parents must make choices regarding the safety of this child and whether or not to let new people know that your child is trans; this is a huge decision. Often kids [and many adults] want to stay “stealth”, or would rather people not know they are biologically a different sex than that in which they prefer to present. The intent of disclosure is to make sure these transgender kids are not discriminated against, or bullied by students and/or teachers. Putting the well being and safety of children first should be the main priority to a school district and the smallest of tasks do a world of good for a child already feeling different than everyone else.

“NAME CHANGES AND BATHROOMS ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES IN SCHOOLS FOR TRANS KIDS”

Name changes and bathrooms are some of the biggest obstacles in schools for trans kids. While the federal law says schools should honor the wishes of a transgender child in using preferred names, and allowing use of preferred bathrooms, this is not often as easy as it sounds. I know of many people who have had numerous issues with schools, teachers and other students not honoring these requests. It often comes down to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what Title IX (Education Amendments of 1972) actually covers regarding gender identity. These amendments say that any school that receives any federal funding assistance cannot discriminate against a student, based on sex or could lose said federal funds. We are seeing this play out in North Carolina with HB2 right now and so far the financial impact has been quite large.

In 2013-2014, The US Department of Education issued guidelines that clarified the basis of Title IX asserting that it does in fact prohibit sexual discrimination against transgender students and subsequently in early 2016, the US Department of Justice and Education [via Attorney General Loretta Lynch] released joint guidance to assist schools in making an environment free from discrimination for all students to attend. The guidance states that both federal agencies will treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex. Currently in Texas, the state leaders are trying to fight this and have filed suit along with 11 other states against the Obama administration. Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton himself states in an interview that there have been little to no issues in dealing with the bathroom issues and schools and local administration should deal with these issues on a case by case basis, yet when Fort Worth ISD put out a clarification of their existing policies, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made a public appearance at a school board meeting calling for resignation of the superintendent. Paxton also claims that Obama invoked lawmaking rights by releasing this guidance and averted Congress. This is not exactly truth considering the Title IX amendments were signed into action in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.

“WHEN SCHOOLS COMPLY WITH TITLE IX AND AFFIRM A CHILD’S GENDER IDENTITY, IT MAKES FOR A MORE CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL INVOLVED.”

When schools comply with Title IX and affirm a child’s gender identity, it makes for a more conducive environment for all involved. Allowing preferred name changes and use of correct preferred pronouns shows the children within the school that this is the proper way to treat a transgender child. It also may keep a child from being outed to other children that may not know they are transgender. When children feel supported they perform better in academics, and behaviorally are emotionally more secure. By teachers or school staff not using preferred names and pronouns it becomes a type of bullying and this should never happen in the educational sector. Teachers are meant to support and teach, not judge and cause harm. Retribution or retaliation sometimes becomes an issue not only with teachers or staff, but once peers see there is a lack of affirmation, they often can become hostile towards these transgender children and begin bullying them in the same ways. Mis-gendering, use of old names versus preferred name or legal name, and constant surveillance regarding bathroom usage can be damaging to trans kids. When people educate themselves and actually realize these children just want to live a normal life as the person they feel they are, these changes in outside attitudes begin to be seen and make a huge difference.

Seeing a child beam after being affirmed as their preferred gender is heart melting. When a child begins to live authentically and their whole emotional persona changes and they become happy again is one of the most life changing experiences. I have not only seen and experienced this with my own child, but with many children and families I have come to know. Being that most kids will attend 13 years of public school, it only makes sense that school should be the place they feel the safest. We cannot have our teachers and educators being our transgender children’s bully, and probably their very first bully. Knowing that allies are often found in the most unsuspecting places, we must educate and work with school staff and help them understand that transgender children are no different than cisgender children and just want to live a normal happy life. Education and acceptance in our schools at an early age is paramount in creating healthy productive grown transgender adults that will become the future of our country.

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