- Since news broke that the Trump administration is seeking to redefine gender and remove Title IX protections for transgender students, educators are grappling with the implications this proposal could have on their schools, as well as how to support students in this community, Chalkbeat reports.
- Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, tells Chalkbeat it's important to remind students that the memo doesn't have teeth, and state and local policies can still protect them.
- He also advises that teachers continue validating transgender students' existence, that school administrators promote an open dialogue with students to see what they need and how the school can help, and that the worst thing educators can do is ignore the problem.
Instead of allowing individuals to choose how they wish to identify, the Trump administration's proposal would legally define gender as a biological trait determined solely by genitalia at birth. For transgender people who don't identify with their biological sex, or individuals who don't wish to conform to a gender or who identify as non-binary, this redefinition would make them unrecognized by the federal government if it took effect.
The proposal, which could affect at least 1.4 million adults and hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S., has drawn outrage from advocates and members of the LGBT community, who say the government is trying to erase them from existence. And it's not the first jab the president has made at transgender students since he took office: In February 2017, he rescinded protections that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding with their chosen gender identity.
As noted, protections remain at the state and local level in some instances. Winn-Ritzenberg noted, for example, that in New York City schools, students can expect to have certain protections like being able to use facilities that correspond with their identity, file discrimination complaints against other students or staff, and have people respect their names and pronouns.
It's long remained in limbo how much this administration's Education Department would recognize or uphold transgender students' rights, but in trying to "protect the country," so many students are losing just that: protection. The New York Times reported last year that roughly one of every 137 American teenagers from 13 to 17 years old would identify as transgender if survey takers asked. That totals about 150,000 across the country, and subsequent research has found that even more teens are choosing to identify this way.
Despite this anti-transgender sentiment stemming from a federal level, and a more hostile school climate for LGBT students in general, districts and schools still have a power and a duty in making sure the entire student body feels safe and welcome. Including more LGBT-related topics in school curriculum, increasing mentorship programs, and encouraging schools to take part in social movements can all make for a more diverse and positive community. Offering more mental health resources and opportunities for discussion can also allow transgender students to be heard and recognized.
And just as teachers should make an effort to correctly pronunce a student's name, they should extend the same courtesy to transgender or non-binary students by using their preferred names or pronouns. These gestures may be smaller in effort, but making sure students know they're validated and recognized can go a long way — especially as this rhetoric persists.