Staff and teachers must address students by their chosen pronouns
In an effort to create an optimal learning environment that’s safe for all students, the education department in New York City is doing the right damn thing. They’re protecting transgender students from harassment and discrimination, by requiring all teachers and staff to use pronouns chosen by the students. It doesn’t matter whether the student identifies as male, female, or neither, it will be affirmed and honored.
The Department of Education announced a wide range of transgender supporting policies in a 10-page memo this week. The guidelines include directives for bathroom and locker room use, dress code, student records, and most notably, pronoun use.
“Imagine all day, every day, everybody’s calling you by a name that just doesn’t feel right,” Jared Fox, the department’s LGBT Liaison told WNYC. As you might imagine, it can take a toll. By spelling out policies, education leaders are hoping that it leads to more staff understanding and acceptance, and less stress for students.
The memo includes a glossary of terms, like the definition of cisgender, “an adjective describing a person whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned sex at birth.”
It also addresses how to treat non-conforming students, “…for students who are gender non-conforming or who do not prescribe to the gender binary, they may prefer gender neutral pronouns such as they, ze, or other pronouns.”
There are a plethora of pronouns available for use no matter how one identifies, and giving school staff this information can go a long way towards awareness and acceptance.
Not only does acceptance break down antiquated social taboos, it can literally impact every other facet of students’ lives. Things like GPA, educational aspirations, and self-esteem, all suffer when LGBTQ students aren’t accepted, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Most importantly, non-acceptance leads to harassment and bullying, which are all huge safety concerns. That’s scary and disheartening for everyone involved: students, parents, and teachers.
“It is important for school staff, students and parents to be aware that transgender and gender-nonconforming students may be at a higher risk for peer ostracism, victimization, and bullying because of bias and/or the possibility of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives,” the rules say.
The numbers surrounding LGBTQ-related harassment and discrimination are absolutely staggering. According to a 2015 GLSEN survey, 85-percent of LGBTQ students said they experienced verbal harassment. Thirty-two percent of LGBTQ students said they missed at least one day of school in the last month because they felt safe or uncomfortable and 39 percent avoided bathrooms. Take a moment with that information, especially the last part. The kids won’t go to the bathroom … they’re holding bodily functions … because they’re so fucking scared. That should be deeply troubling to everyone. We must do better.
All of this disturbing information seems utterly lost on the entire Trump administration. About two weeks ago, President Trump rescinded protections (put in place by the Obama administration) for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms that corresponded to their identity. Trump essentially rolled back progress of these civil rights protections, leaving states to figure it out themselves for now, and leaving transgender folks completely vulnerable.
One of the most active opponents of Trump’s rollbacks is New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio. He has been a strong supporter of transgender rights and has been since assuming office in 2014. He’s signed executive orders mandating protections for transgender individuals, and this latest DOE memo is basically an expansion of his efforts.
To be clear, protecting transgender rights is of moral and human importance. Truthfully, it shouldn’t even be an issue. It’s been debated a thousand times for years and if people still feel someone owes them an explanation on it, or owes them a debate about why a transgender person deserves protections or rights, they have willfully ignored all of the information presented to them. A person being transgender literally does not cause harm to anyone. You know what is harmful though? Not doing anything to protect our fellow humans, transgender and otherwise. That is harmful.
Fox nailed why these latest guidelines are so important going forward. He told the NY Daily News simply, “It’s about a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment.”
We all deserve to feel safe, especially our kids.