President Obama is offering some much needed guidance to school administrators regarding transgender washrooms. During an interview on Monday, Obama spoke with feeling about dignity, and vulnerability, and bullying. The reality is, as Obama knows, transgender washrooms are clearly bringing a lot of feelings and concerns to the surface in so many people. Perhaps especially children who don't know how they're supposed to feel about everything. So how do you talk to kids about transgender bathrooms? Think empathy, and sensitivity.
In his interview with Buzzfeed News this week, Obama explained,
We're talking about kids. And anybody who's been in a school, in a high school, who's been a parent, I think should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority, kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender, are subject to a lot of bullying.
The president went on to say that kids were more "vulnerable" than others. "And I think that is part of our obligation as a society," he added, "to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and our kids are loved, and protected, and their dignity is affirmed."
The Obama administration recently offered new guidelines regarding access to transgender bathrooms in schools. The president issued a joint letter with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, taking measures that guaranteed "transgender students enjoy[ed] a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment."
While the set of guidelines outlined by the federal government stretches beyond the issue of transgender bathroom access and encompasses other issues like privacy rights, discrimination, and sex-segregated athletics, it's possible kids will most immediately identify with the bathroom issue (certainly the federal government's heated battle with the state of North Carolina over House Bill 2 has seen loads of publicity). So how do you answer their questions?
Whether your child has questions about the nature of transgender individuals or has question about themselves, empathy is always an excellent starting point. Empathy for the kid at school who has just discovered their own gender identity and simply wants to use the bathroom with dignity. Empathy for the confused, frightened kids who don't know how to react. You can truly never go wrong with a little empathy.
Battle Fear With Education
You can't control the hate-filled vitriol your kids could be exposed to, nor the "facts" they might read online. But you can combat these "facts" with an education. Do your research when it comes to the much-debated issue of transgender violence in washrooms. Scientific Parent reports that there has been virtually "no increase in in assaults in bathrooms" since bathroom rights were issued to transgender people. Conversely, transgender youths are at an increased risk of violence when using public restrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes North Carolina's House Bill 2 because it puts transgender youths at risk of discrimination, stigmatization, and further violence.
Humanize The Hype By Making The Stories Relatable
Tell the story of Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the son of Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who was born Amanda. He told his parents he had a new gender identity in a letter, packed his bags and went to a friend's house to wait for word that his parents still loved him. And they most certainly did. "Our son is transgender," Ros-Lehtinen said in an ad for SAVE, an organization that advocates for gay and transgender rights. "We loved him as Amanda. Now we love him as Rodrigo."
Or tell the story of Kai and his mother Yolanda Bogert, who had a retraction printed in the local newspaper changing Kai's sex from female to male in support of her son when he told her he had changed his gender identity.
Tell stories of love and acceptance and joy. Tell the story of young Milla and his parents, who have accepted him as a boy wholeheartedly. "The only thing that's changed are the pronouns," mother Renée Fabish said in a video posted to Facebook.
Remind your kids about all of these real life human beings, who just want to go about their day with the same sort of unconscious acceptance that everything will be alright so many of us enjoy. That bland joy of the everyday. Remind them to be conscious and present in the way they deal with people, and that a public bathroom is just that — public. Maybe they'll remind a few grown-ups while they're at it too.