I’ve received many texts and calls from family, friends, and colleagues since the Trump administration announced its plan to redefine “sex discrimination” under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded schools.
The Trump administration’s proposal would deny my transgender child federal protection at school. The administration’s proposal disregards scientific medical data, which has established that gender is more of a spectrum or fluid sphere of gender identities and expressions than two fixed points. This new gender diversity model has been adopted by the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association.
Although this is not the Trump administration’s first action against the LGBTQ+ community, this proposal lands so hard as a mom. I want my child to be safe walking in school hallways and on the streets of any town or city. But if this proposal is passed, my family fears that this basic human need and right to be safe and free will be taken away.
So what can we do as parents and educators in the face of the Trump administration’s plan to define “transgender” out of existence? From my vantage point as the parent of a trans child and an educator, I see many ways that we can all support our young people, including those who are trans, queer, or questioning.
Most importantly, when a hurt or harm such as this one has occurred, the first step is to recognize that it happened. It felt so good to have people reach out to me and my daughter after the new policy on gender was announced, to hear how others were determined to stand with our family and to raise awareness around gender diversity. It is a basic human need to be seen, heard, and accepted for who we are – that is real belonging. So the first thing to do is to acknowledge what has happened, and invite people to share their feelings about it in the welcoming community we have created. Morningside Center has many activities and approaches for inviting this kind of sharing of feelings, including basic circles. Also see the feelings chart on my website, which aims to help people articulate uncomfortable feelings.
Beyond this immediate response, there’s much that we can do to create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students, and all students, going forward.
1. Increase our own gender literacy. We can begin by deepening our own understanding of gender, including by learning about the history, lives, and contributions of LGBTQ+ people. There are many books and websites to explore. Three favorites are: www.glsen.org (Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network), www.tolerance.org (Teaching Tolerance), and www.hrc.org (Human Rights Campaign). We can use some of these resources, and apply our increased understanding, in our teaching and parenting.
2. Challenge language or ideas that perpetuate binary notions of gender. As educators we can retire the old model of greeting a classroom with, “hello boys and girls.” Instead, we can affirm all gender identities by saying, “hello scholars,” “hello students,” or any non-gendered term for a group. And we all need to be aware of the ubiquitous “hey guys!”
3. Invite into our homes and classrooms books, videos, and people who identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer and other non-cisgender identities, expanding understanding of gender by young people and ourselves. Ten years ago, I wrote a children’s book about a transgender child called When Kayla Was Kyle. Back then, there were very few such books. Now there are many other wonderful options.
4. Explore our own gender journey in partnership with others. Adults can further increase our own awareness of gender by exploring our personal gender journeys together – if we have established trust and safety in the group, and if we are prepared to use active listening skills. One strategy that can be helpful for exploring our own gender journeys is to plot our experiences on a timeline or draw a map of these experiences (all creativity welcome). Examine your earliest messages around gender:
- How old were you?
- Where were you?
- What was happening?
- Who was there?
- What message(s) were received in that experience?
Continue to describe each plot point or scene, taking turns sharing some or all of the journey. Examine current beliefs you hold around gender.