My oldest child is transgender. I did not expect or anticipate this and was not particularly well-prepared for it. Over the course of a year or so, she began to articulate her identity, expressing it first through hairstyle and clothing. We talked a lot about how you shouldn’t have to change yourself just because of what other people think about you. By fourth grade, she had learned what the word transgender meant and was certain that it described her. Nobody told her to be this way. Nobody forced an ideology on her. She told me who she was, and I accepted it.
Our friends and family have overwhelmingly been advocates for her. I know we are fortunate for that. The two biggest challenges we’ve faced so far were related to public school. Her classmates mostly responded within a range from indifference to enthusiastic support. But when she first started openly using her transgender identity, a few of the students on her bus argued with each other about whether she was really a boy or a girl, as if she had no say in the matter herself. I don’t know if this was outright bullying or earnest confusion, but I do know it was humiliating for her regardless. At her request, we drove her to school for a week or two until she felt comfortable taking the bus again. In the meantime, her classmates and teacher helped normalize the situation and before long it became a non-issue, even on the bus.
Earlier, my daughter, my spouse and I had met with the school. Everyone—the teacher, the guidance counselor, the administrator—was helpful and accommodating. We discussed bathrooms and school identification records. The only problem was that we were all in uncharted territory together. No one seemed familiar with how exactly the school policies should apply to our situation. This surprised me. Surely my daughter couldn’t be the first openly transgender student in her school. I couldn’t help but think how others had likely struggled silently on their own before her, in that very same school. Or how many others in different schools might fare if their school administrators weren’t quite so open and willing to figure things out together.
These policies will help families and educators navigate the considerations of transgender students like my daughter, and make these discussions and choices easier for everyone. They will help reduce the harm done to transgender students in the absence of such guidelines.
Much of the opposition to these model policies seems to be based on the incorrect assumption that schools will be forced to teach students about gender identities. Or that the privacy of cisgendered students will somehow be violated. (I would hope we can agree that no students should be violating each other’s privacy at all, regardless of their respective genders!)
In reality, these policies represent a minimum set of guidelines to ensure that transgender students will not be excluded from participating fully in public schools. We need this. Because at the end of the day, transgender girls are girls, transgender boys are boys, and every LGBTQ+ student is a student. And public schools are for all students.