It seems like every day we educators are waking up in a world where more and more of our students need increased protection and reassurances of safety and love and acceptance. It is like we are watching the world become more unsafe for our students, and for all of us, by the minute. And it is not just the executive orders alone or the rescinded guidelines alone or the people being appointed alone that is making this world unsafe, it is the near-constant stream of messages and words and intentions being spread that make our students feel as if who they are is not enough. As if who they are is not accepted in this world. As if being exactly who they are is not enough to make them worthy of being treated equally or justly or fairly.
This past Wednesday, President Trump and his administration rescinded the federal guidelines that protected transgender students and ensured that they be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. These guidelines helped to ensure that transgender students across the country, no matter where they lived or how conservative or homophobic their schools and communities were, they were allowed to not only use the bathrooms in which they felt most comfortable, but also the bathrooms that were safest for them. These guidelines ensured that transgender students could be at school and focus on learning and not on figuring out where they would have to go to a bathroom that was “approved” for them to use. They were able to go to the bathroom just like everyone else. To live and to learn just like everyone else. And that was so important.
But these guidelines. They were about more than bathrooms.
And that is something that I deeply understand.
You see, in a seemingly unconnected news item, just days before these guidelines were rescinded, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University released a study that showed that the passage of laws that legalized same-sex marriage had an impact on the number of LGBT attempted suicides. As states passed same-sex marriage laws, the rates of attempted suicide by LGBT people living in those states dropped.
And that makes so much sense to me.
Before I first came out, I had many difficult moments. Moments, truthfully, where I considered taking my own life. This is the first time I am writing that here. But I think it is a truth that many LGBT people have faced at some point in their lives. These were moments where I did not know if I truly had the strength to go on living without being honest about who I was or the strength to come out and be honest about being who I was. There were days that it seemed easier to just be done with it all.
At that time, gay marriage was only legal in a handful of states. Less than five. But it was never that my desire to get married was so strong or so desperate that the thought of not being able to get married drove me to consider ending my own life. It was never just about marriage. In fact, at that time, I figured I would never want to get married. The fact that it was against the law for me to get married had very little to do with my own considerations of whether life was worth living. It was never about marriage. It was about the world that I was living in. The country I was living in. The society I was living in. It did not accept me as worthy or equal if I wanted to live my life openly as who I was. The laws that stopped me from being able to get married were simply an indicator about how my country felt about me.
The laws simply told me how others saw me. How worthy of equality and acceptance and love they thought I was.How far my own government would go to protect me and my equal rights sent a strong message to me about how far my own neighbors and teachers and friends might go as well. And the laws that existed sent a strong message that I was not worthy because of who I was.
And that was enough to make life seem not worth living. That was enough to make me doubt my own existence in this world and whether it was worthwhile.
And then as those laws started to change, so did the messages being sent to young lesbian and gay and bisexual human beings in this country. And it makes sense to me that more of them began to believe that life was worth living. Worth living exactly as they were. As the laws changed, so did our own perceptions of just how worthy we were. Not only did other people begin to change how they saw us. We began to change how we saw ourselves. And so, again, it makes so much sense to me that suicide rates began to drop as the laws that ensured our equality began to change.
So now I look at our precious and brave transgender youth today. And while I can NEVER begin to understand the struggle of being a person who is transgender, I can get a glimpse into what those laws and guidelines that offered protections meant to that community. And, sadly, I can begin to understand what affect the rescinding of those guidelines might have.
Because, as I know, it is about much more than just bathrooms. It is about seeing how far your own government is willing to go, and using that to tell you how far others might be willing to go, in order to ensure that you are safe. Safe living exactly as you are. Exactly as you are meant to be. It is about knowing that no matter where you are, you will be safe when you are in school. It is about know that you are accepted by the country that you are living in. It is about knowing that the country you live in sees you as worthy of being treated justly and equally. It is about knowing that you are worth fighting for and worth keeping safe.
Because these laws. These guidelines. They show you not only how your own country sees you, but they impact the very way that you see yourself. And having those protections and then having them taken away, that is the kind of hurt that goes straight to your heart. That is the kind of hurt that can end lives.
But here is something else I learned when I was walking through my own darkest moments. Even when the laws seem to be against you and your humanity, the people who surround you can go a very long way to prove to you that you are worthy of being loved for exactly who you are. Because even when your own government is sending messages of intolerance and discrimination and potentially even of hate, the people around you can also send messages. Messages that help to combat all of that. Messages that make you feel like life is worth living.
So that is where we, as educators, step in. We have a powerful chance here. We are not powerless to fight this. The transgender community was just dealt a really awful blow. There are transgender children all across this country wondering about how safe they are really going to be in their schools. There are families of transgender children all across this country all wondering the exact same thing. How safe will their own children, their hearts, be while they are away from them at school? They are fearful.
And there are so many reasons for them to be fearful.
But we. We can be a reason for them to have hope. We can be a reason for them to feel reassured. We can be a reason that someone feels worthy. We can be a reason that someone feels they are worth fighting for. We can be a reason why someone decides that life really is worth living.
Because while the government has rescinded a very important set of guidelines, we as teachers and administrators, we are the ones who have the absolute privilege and honor of actually seeing these beautiful kids every single day and we are the ones who have the ability to rise above what our government has done and go out of our way to make these kids feel safe. Everywhere.
And we do not have to have transgender children in our classrooms in order for us to play a role in making sure that transgender children feel safe. Those of us who teach, we have the power to make sure that ALL children go out into this world and value the lives of transgender people. That all children understand what it means to be transgender, that it means to be human, that it means to be equal. We can say the word transgender in our classrooms. We can read the stories of people who are transgender. We can bring the voices of children and adults who are transgender to our students so that they can begin to know them. We can use the correct terminology. We can use the correct pronouns. We can ensure that our students know that people who are transgender are people just like they are. And that they are all worthy of love and acceptance and protection.
When our students hear us affirm the worthiness of others, they are more likely to affirm this worthiness as well. When they hear us stand up and speak up for the rights of those who are transgender, our students will be more willing to stand up and speak up as well. While our students are getting messages from the government, they are also getting messages from us. And we have the power to choose what those messages will be. When we stay silent, we lose our chance to send a message of love and acceptance that can combat the messages of intolerance and hate that are pouring in from many other places.
And if we have the privilege of having transgender children in our classrooms and in our schools. Then our responsibility is even greater. Because we have the chance to impact a child’s life directly. We have the chance to help a child see that he/she/they is absolutely worthy of love for being exactly who they are. We have the chance to stand up and show a child what it means to defend another human being and to feel another human being defend you. We have the chance to read books to our classes that allow that child to see themselves reflected in the pages and images we are reading. We have the chance to go out of our way to make sure a child not only is safe, but feels safe, and never has to doubt his or her or their own safety or worthiness or right to be loved.
We have that power.
So as we work to expand our definition of what it means to be a teacher in these times, let us add our transgender youth onto our ever-growing list of people to make sure we value in our classrooms because the world outside of our classrooms is no longer guaranteed to show them that they are valued. Let us make sure that we ask our own school boards what our policies are and then let us fight to ensure that with or without federal guidelines, that we are ensuring protection. Ask the tough questions. Demand the tough work.
And please. Do not take my word for it. Because I am an outsider. I do not know the life of a transgender person. I have no right to speak for anyone. Please. Read their own words. Read their own stories.
Here are some places to start:
And once you’ve read these stories, here are some wonderful collections of resources to help you in your classrooms. These collections come from:
And after you have read, make sure that you act. Because our job is to protect children. All children. And we have so much power to be able to do that.