Courtesy of B R Sanders

My Son Is Safe, But What About The Other Transgender Kids Who Aren't?

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On May 13, 2016, President Obama issued a landmark executive directive that protected the right of transgender students nationwide. On Feb. 22, 2017, President Trump rescinded Obama's transgender students protections. When Trump rescinded that executive order, protections for transgender students moved from the federal level to the state level. Instead of a blanket, nationwide set of protections for all trans kids everywhere, protections are once again spotty, dependent on state legislatures to set and tweak as they see fit. They are sporadic, idiosyncratic, and in some places altogether missing.

I live in Colorado. Transgender people, students and adults alike, are protected here by a bill passed in 2008, which expanded the definitions and protected classes for Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act to include transgender individuals. This law has been tested before and remained strong. The Colorado Department of Education has even affirmed its commitment to protecting the rights of transgender students, and I am deeply relieved to live in a state where my rights as a transgender person, and more importantly my son's rights as a transgender schoolchild, are stable and acknowledged.

But most states have no protections for transgender students.

ACLU
We didn't move to Colorado because of its transgender-friendly laws. We moved here because I got a job in Denver. I easily could have gotten a job in some other state, and then Arthur would be without a shield. The what ifs bring me to my knees.

Over 30 states have no anti-discrimination legislation in place based on gender identity. I grew up in Texas — one of those states. I gave birth to Arthur, my son, in Michigan — another of those states. We lived there until Arthur was 2 years old. We didn't move to Colorado because of its transgender-friendly laws. We moved here because I got a job in Denver. I easily could have gotten a job in some other state, and then Arthur would be without a shield. The what ifs bring me to my knees.

This is the reality for many transgender students right now. They just happen to live in states that have no protections in place for them. It is a fluke, a circumstance beyond their control. And it is a cruelty. This is why federal level legislation is necessary.

Courtesy B R Sanders
Requiring transgender students to use bathrooms that conflict with their gender identity, or forcing them to use teachers' bathrooms or the one single-stall bathroom on campus, is othering and can negatively contribute to transgender students' feelings of isolation.

Transgender students report extraordinarily high rates of bullying— over 80 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in their schools, according to the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network's 2011 report. Clearly, the climate in our schools is not open and accepting towards transgender children and adolescents. Part of this is work that needs to be done at a societal level, but basic protections for the rights of transgender students go a long way towards normalizing these students' gender expression, making them feel safe, and reducing bullying. Requiring transgender students to use bathrooms that conflict with their gender identity, or forcing them to use teachers' bathrooms or the one single-stall bathroom on campus, is othering and can negatively contribute to transgender students' feelings of isolation.

Leaving these protections up to state legislatures isn't working. Some states, like mine, are writing in protections. Many others aren't. Some states are actively stripping away protections for transgender students. It's a lot to keep track of. Making this a state-by-state decision really means transgender students (and people) are given basic rights on a state-by-state basis, which is unfair and inadequate.

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For now, my son and I are safe because we happen to live in a state that welcomes us. But I have transgender friends and loved ones in states that have no protections. What does it mean for us that the same person can be afforded basic rights in one part of the country but not in another?

But the fight for federal level protections is not over. Gavin Grimm, a young transgender man from Virginia, is embroiled in a case that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Even without Obama's mandate, the Supreme Court can and should consider the protections that Title IX legislation bestows on individual students in every state. The ruling on the Grimm case could create federal precedent for anti-discrimination for transgender students through Title IX, which was where Obama's executive order had roots to begin with.

Schools should be safe and welcoming places. One reason why transgender people have disproportionately high rates of suicide and depression is because we have so few safe and welcoming places. For now, my son and I are safe because we happen to live in a state that welcomes us. But I have transgender friends and loved ones in states that have no protections. What does it mean for us that the same person can be afforded basic rights in one part of the country but not in another? It means we have work to do.