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Title IX is Harming Transgender Youth: Here's What We Can Do

If our youth don’t feel safe in our society, then what kind of society are we?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, suicide rates and tendencies for TGNC youth are at an all time high. When compared with the general population, risk for TGNC youth range higher, between 32% and 50% across the country. Within the same study, it was found that discrimination, bullying, violence, gender-based victimization and rejection from family, friends and community are major risk factors that influence the suicidal behavior among transgender persons.

The Trump administration reinterpreted Title IX, which puts transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youth at risk of facing increased harassment, at school and beyond. Title IX prohibits schools from discrimination on “the basis of sex,” which, under the Obama administration, was determined to include gender identity, resulting in protections which the Trump administration has revoked.

Legislatures are actively discriminating against transgender children. Title IX restricts trans youth from access to the bathroom of their gender identities and makes them vulnerable to attacks. Earlier last year a Kansas school cancelled classes following parents death threats of a 12 year old transgender girl who used the girls restroom, in what the Dallas News called “open hunting seasons.”  Since the restriction to safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming youth in schools, TGNC kids will continue to face violence at the hands of anti-trans legislations.

I spoke with Arnold H. Grossman, a professor of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt —  in a research paper titled Transgender Youth: Invisible and Vulnerable, Grossman writes that “almost all of the youth talked about four major issues related to their vulnerability in health-related areas or lack of safe environments, lack of access to health services, few resources for their mental health concerns and a lack of continuity of caregiving by their families and communities.” Grossman goes on to say that youth are mostly concerned with safety issues related to being potential victims of violence upon disclosure of their transgender status or that information being disclosed by others. Grossman spoke with a transgender girl who stated directly, “I have no comfort or safety zones, and that puts me at risk of suicide.”

Since Trump’s reinterpretation of Title IX, so much of the visibility surrounding the legislation has begun to all but disappear. It’s important that we keep this conversation going, and ensuring that every single transgender and gender nonconforming child does not feel that they have no comfort or safety zones. If our youth don’t feel safe in our society, then what kind of society are we?

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“It’s important that cis-allies, both within and outside of the LGBTQ community, are making efforts to center and support trans youth.” says Becca Mui, the education manager for GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network). I spoke with Mui late last year on what we can do to protect transgender and gender non-conforming youth. In my conversation with Becca Mui, she reported that according to GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, about 75 percent of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. GLSEN recommends four supports for an LGBTQ-inclusive schools: Enumerated anti-bullying policies, which explicitly list gender identity/expression, Supportive Educators, gay–straight alliance or LGBTQ-themed clubs, and Inclusive Curriculum. These supports can be recommended by administrators, implemented by faculty members, and benefit everyone in the school community.

“Compared to their peers, gender nonconforming students, or students’ whose gender identity or expression did not fit within “traditional” gender roles, are more likely to report that they don’t plan to finish high school or to continue their education after high school (GLSEN 2015).” Mui tells me, “furthermore, LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of harassment and assault and/or discriminatory practices reported higher levels of depression and lower self-esteem.”

Mui says that students who are supported at school, at home, and in public spaces are given the message that they are valid, and that they are enough and are more likely to have a sense of school belonging, to be able to fully participate in their studies, and to want to continue their education. “If those students are also coming home to supportive environments and families, as well as feeling safe and accepted in public spaces in between, they have a greater chance at thriving, as young people and beyond,” Mui stated.

It’s important that we start these conversations early. Young children are often highly gendered into stereotypical gender roles well before kindergarten in everything from gender reveal parties to options at dramatic play centers. It’s important to bring gender into the conversation about identity in elementary school, and to teach children about gender stereotypes so that they can decide what feels right to them. GLSEN’s elementary tool kit, Ready, Set, Respect! is a great place to start, and their newer lesson on Identity can help continue this conversation. Classrooms can also be designed visually and structurally to represent and encourage gender diversity through classroom decorations, books, and posters. Furthermore, much of this work belongs with adults – educators, parents and family members, administrators, and our ability to unlearn what we were taught about “boys” and “girls” while continually educating ourselves about the spectrums and fluidity of gender identity and expression that have always existed.  

GLSEN has also created a Model Policy for any school to implement when looking for language that protects trans students. The model presents some policy objectives, key points and alternatives to consider. This resource can help any school trying to implement policies around names, pronouns, and school records, access to gender-segregated facilities in schools, dress code alternatives, and more. Athletic directors and PE teachers can also refer to GLSEN’s resource, Trans Inclusion in High School Athletics. The goal of these resources is to help create safer and more supportive learning environments for all students, and to ensure that all students have the opportunity to express themselves and live authentically.

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Lastly, GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit is an excellent resource for educators who want to address anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. It’s important that educators and other adults in school intervene in these moments, whether they are during a lesson or overheard in the hallway. GLSEN recommends that they address the bullying or harassment immediately, name the behavior, use it as a teachable moment, support the targeted student, and hold students accountable for their words and actions. GLSEN also recommends restorative justice practices, where students are given an opportunity to learn more about people or groups of people they may not be familiar with, and to broaden their understanding of the impact of their words and actions. GLSEN’s anti-bullying campaign, No Name-Calling Week, helps schools across the country to address name-calling and bullying, and to support students in their efforts to decide what identities and labels they want to be called.

In addition to my conversations with Mui and Grossman, I also talked with Ellie Krug, trans lawyer and author of What Transgender Humans Might Offer for Healing America. Krug had a simple message for society about the trans community.

“Trans people are simply trying to survive the human condition like anybody else. It’s just that our survival is far more public than other people. Everybody’s trying to survive it but for us to do it we have to do it in a very public way. And that makes people uncomfortable and it also causes a lot of trans people not to come out, and causes a fair number of us to take our lives because we can’t bare the idea of doing it.

My goal with what I do is to allow everyone to understand that it’s the human condition and to welcome people who are othered.”

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Serena is a transgender writer who focuses on culture through an LGBT+ lens. When she's not writing you can catch her obsessing over the latest episodes of Game of Thrones and Stranger Things.

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