What if you knew the biggest threats to your child were the people in power? What if those people were the ones in charge of public education, civil rights and justice?
If you or anyone you love -- especially your child -- is LGBTQ, Black, an immigrant, poor or disabled, you already know this fear. If your child lives at the intersection of any of these identities, you acutely know this fear. Though, for the majority or perhaps the whole of your child’s life, things had gotten better. There had been in place an administration, an Education Department, an Office of Civil Rights and a Justice Department that at least recognized the threats to your children and tried to ameliorate them.
President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch listened to parents and students and educators and began to address social and emotional development of children in U.S. public schools. They began to work with us to change the trend to downward of over-disciplining and over-criminalizing in schools. This worked with us to pass guidelines protecting transgender children from discrimination in public schools.
When my child transitioned in 8th grade to living as the girl she always knew herself to be, she wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, and not all the teachers agreed to address her as “she.” Some of the Christian teachers in her public middle school made the sign of the cross when they passed her in the hallway and moved as far from her as they could.
By the time my child finished her first year of high school, she had been invited by Obama’s Education Department to talk about her experiences and recommend ways to make her education trans-inclusionary and non-discriminatory. Before the end of her sophomore year of high school, President Obama had passed federal guidance to public schools letting them know that Title IX includes protection of one’s gender identity from discrimination. This meant children like mine could use the bathroom that matched who they are, that their chosen names and pronouns would be respected by all in public schools and that their rights to be themselves in public spaces would be recognized and respected.
In hostile and non-supportive schools and homes, transgender children suffer greater mental health challenges than non-trans (cisgender) children. Unsupported, more than 50 percent of trans youth face depression. In hostile environments, trans youth experience anxiety at rates near 30 percent as compared to the 10 percent anxiety rates of their cisgender peers and commit suicide at rates three times as high. However, with supportive home and school environments, their rates are the same as those for cisgender children.
Further, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that obstructing or denying transgender students access to restroom facilities can cause serious physical health problems as well, such as dehydration and urinary tract infections. My own child used to complain of chronic stomach aches and cramps from spending days at school where her bathroom use was obstructed. She also refused to drink water while at school.
In his first hours in office, Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced the Justice Department would withdraw its pending appeal on the halt of President Obama’s 2016 guidance on Title IX protections to include protection for the rights of transgender students in U.S. public schools. Now, the administration has gone further and withdrawn the guidance altogether. This shows a complete lack of compassion for our children, a move of supreme cruelty against them, a grave threat to their physical and mental health, the legalization of discrimination based on gender identity and complete ignorance as to what constitutes gender.
Individual states and school districts that have chosen to respect the rights of transgender students still may do so, but those who have resisted based upon ignorance and ideology would now be free to continue to discriminate without legal challenge.
What a hateful thing to do to children. Schools have a legal and moral duty to support all children, including transgender children.
As one parent to another: We will fight to the ends of the earth to protect our children from bullies, from harm, from hatred and from discrimination. Won’t you join me and thousands of other parents nationwide in calling on the Trump administration to protect transgender children? We need you.