I do not think this guidance and proposed policy will help out transgender youth. In fact, I believe in its current form, this guidance will do much more harm than good in regards to the wellbeing of both transgender and cisgender students.
The goal of this policy is to create a safe and welcoming environment for transgender students to grow and learn in. However, the policy misses the mark on a number of critical issues. If there are students struggling with their gender identity, and the Virginia Department of Education truly cares about these students, why aren’t we investing time in having school counselors help these children figure out why they identify as transgender?
Why doesn’t the VA Department of Education have school therapists counsel these young people as to how/why they feel they are not the gender that they were born as? Other questions might include: what are causing these thoughts? Are the students’ understanding about their gender being caused by influences other than their own observations and feelings?
Childhood and puberty are confusing times, are we serving our children best if we don’t thoroughly investigate, question, and even challenge the reasons behind their gender identity struggles?
Bullying and harassment are wrong, but there is a difference between setting up young people for success by helping them understand and make sense of their own challenges, issues, thoughts, and emotions as opposed to forcing the creation of an environment that makes them feel “safe”. Once a student graduates from high school, they may find themselves in completely different circumstances, somewhere much less supportive. If they are not comfortable with themselves and/or have not developed the skills necessary to be mindful of their emotional/mental duress then they will needlessly suffer when faced with trying times. And the environment that was created during their time in school, the one meant to help them avoid having to address these issues, will ultimately be the cause of their suffering.
I believe the guidance outlined in these Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students should focus more on the counseling and development of life skills for these young transgender students than creating an environment that does not challenge them nor help them grow & come to peace with their gender identity. If there is a transgender student who wants to be called by a different name or referred to by different pronouns, then they should be comfortable explaining their wishes to their fellow students and teachers on an individual basis.
A transgender student’s relationships with their peers and instructors should be determined at an individual level, and the type & quality of interactions should not be mandated by the VA Department of Education nor any other governing body. Again, this suggestion is not meant to condone bullying or harassment. However, if a student can be truly hurt by the use of a wrong name or pronouns, so much so that it causes them high levels of academic or emotional duress, wouldn’t they be best served by counseling and/or mentorship which would eventually help them feel comfortable discussing their thoughts, feelings, and personal preferences with those who challenge their views? Isn’t the purpose of our academic system to help students develop the skills they need in order to succeed in life once they graduate from high school and move on to university, trade, military, or career? How is creating an environment that lacks significant growth opportunities and forces others to agree with a student’s perceptions setting the aforementioned student up for success later in life?
Another worrisome decision is the lack of inclusion of parents/guardians in the discovery of gender identity by transgender students. The underlying sentiment outlined in these Model Policies seem to be that in some cases the parents/guardians of transgender students may not support, or may openly condemn, transgenderism. This lack of support or condemnation can hurt the transgender student and cause negative consequences in their academic and personal life.
This policy strikes me as short sighted. Parents and guardians are responsible for their child at the very least in a legal sense. If a transgender student is under 18 years old and something happens to them due to their being transgender, and the parents/guardians are not aware of their child’s gender identity, this would cause unnecessary complications.
Another and more concerning item is that if parents/guardians have a lack of empathy or acceptance for their transgender child, isn’t that a real cause for alarm and perhaps an issue that may make the child’s gender identity struggles worse? A guardian’s lack of acceptance or creation of a negative atmosphere at home is something that should be dealt with, not ignored and avoided. Indeed a negative home life could gravely impact a transgender student who is struggling with their gender identity, so why does this policy propose to avoid parent/guardian involvement?
These Model Policies should strive to educate and involve the parents/guardians of transgender students. If teachers, staff, and fellow students are to follow these Model Policies and in essence play an active role in supporting transgender students, then why aren’t the transgender student’s parents/guardians (people who have known them much longer and who are closely involved with their lives) not actively involved? That lack of inclusion makes no sense. It not only creates a great potential for legal issues, but also doesn’t truly help any struggling transgender youth. What could be more helpful to someone struggling with their gender identity than the support and love, or at least acceptance, of their parents/guardians?
The other issue I find with these Model Policies is the seeming lack of empathy or thought for the rest of the student population. There are numerous studies cited within the Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students, but they all appear to focus on the negative effects of bullying/harassment on transgender students or the positive effects they will receive from a supportive environment. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any studies or thought as to the effects these proposed policies will have on the rest of the student population.
Has anything as thorough and sweeping as these policies been implemented in a school system before? If so, what are the effects on non-transgender students? Were there any overall negative or positive side-effects? The Model Policies do not delve into that subject area and that is worrisome to me. It concerns me that perhaps the VA Department of Education is so enthusiastic about implementing their policies that they failed to take into account the effects these policies could have on all other students. It’s almost as if the VA Department of Education has decided to focus solely on supporting transgender students at the cost of the overall well-being of the rest of the student population.
Does one group’s discomfort negate the discomfort of another group? I don’t think so, but these Model Policies speak differently about the VA Department of Education’s views.
I also foresee trouble with locker rooms and restrooms being used by transgender students based upon their consistently asserted gender identity. I do not believe different locker rooms and restrooms are utilized solely based upon gender, but more so based upon genitalia or "sex" as it is defined in the Model Policies. This is more a function of utility and utilizing toilets that correspond with persons who are of the same sex, versus a matter of what gender one belongs to or identifies with.
I believe the rest of the student population, and their parents/guardians, should be asked as to their comfort level with transgender students utilizing a restroom/locker room that doesn’t correspond with the transgender student’s birth gender. If the officials on the VA Department of Education are comfortable sharing restrooms and locker rooms with transgender people, that is their own choice. It would be presumptuous of the VA Department of Education to assume that the entirety of the students/guardians they are supposed to be representing share those same views.
Other items I find concerning:
The definitions outlined at the beginning of the Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students stating that cisgender versus transgender has to do with gender identity in relation to sex “assigned” at birth. That definition makes it sound as if sex is assigned to babies by some sort of entity or organization.
Sex is not “assigned”. Babies are born a specific sex due to chromosomes from their mother and father. The definition used in the VA Department of Education’s policy implies some sort of unfairness in terms of sex “assignment” when really sex is determined by the gametes from one’s parents. The word “assignment” in regards to struggles with gender identity carries connotations of victimization. As if the sex of a person at birth victimizes them if later in life they do not wish to have been born that sex.
Another issue I have is with the “Related Laws” section, specifically discussion of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
“First Amendment: The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and expression. Schools may not prevent students from expressing their identity.”
Students have the right to express their identity and this includes their gender identity. Conversely, other students are also free to express their thoughts and feelings in regards to the gender identity of others. These policies from the VA Department of Education seek to diminish that right, wherein even the “improper” use of pronouns or incorrect name can be considered bullying & harassment and thus met with some form of punishment.
The VA Education system contains students form many backgrounds, cultures, and religions. They are entitled to have their own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. They may not accept that another student is a different gender than that particular student’s birth gender and those dissenting students should not be coerced into giving up their differing viewpoints. The First Amendment grants all American citizens, including Virginian students, the freedom to express their beliefs, even those that go against the policy of governing bodies like the VA Department of Education. Granted in an academic environment the expression of this belief must be done in a tactful manner, but those students have the right to express their beliefs all the same.
If the VA Department of Education, or another academic institution, seeks to overrule and undermine the expression of dissenting beliefs in regards to these Model Policies, then they are being unconstitutional. They would also be creating an academic environment in which students are not allowed to think for themselves.
Acceptance and empathy come from mutual respect and understanding. They do not develop from coercion and especially not from rules forced upon others from any sort of governing body. If the VA Department of Education sincerely wants to create a safe and nurturing academic environment for transgender students, then the Department needs to allow dissenting opinions to be heard and addressed. It needs to trust students to be mature enough to work things out at an individual level and not have their interactions be overly controlled by policies from any sort of administrative department.
Lastly, I am curious as to what will become of school sports, specifically female sports. The average male has 10% more muscle mass than the average female. In addition, males are typically taller and heavier than females. Greater strength, height, and weight all play a big factor in athletic success. If a transgender girl wants to play female sports, due to their XY (male) chromosomes, they would be stronger, taller, and heavier than most of their cisgender female competitors. This gives the transgender girl an unfair advantage.