Yesterday we learned of the administration’s newest tactic to once again ignore the struggles and existence of transgender people, particularly transgender youth. A leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed new efforts to conflate gender with sex and define it purely as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Establishing this new legal definition of sex is intended to formally redefine Title IX — the civil rights guidance that establishes protections from gender-based discrimination in education. After stripping the Obama-era guidance that specifically named gender identity as a protected category, this new move would effectively erase the experiences of transgender, non-binary, and intersex people — people whose identities, expressions, and bodies cannot be confined to the binary.
Exactly one week ago new statistics were released from the GLSEN 2017 National School Climate Survey revealing just how harrowing of a time it is to be transgender in schools. In addition to seeing general progress for LGBTQ students plateau or, worse, reverse, we also witnessed an increase in gender-based discrimination and bullying. Over 8 in 10 transgender students reported being bullied or harassed because of their gender identity and/or expression. Further, nearly half of transgender and gender nonconforming youth were precluded from using school facilities (like bathrooms and locker rooms) that matched their gender, in addition to using their chosen name and pronouns in school. It is important to remember that this data assesses school climate from over a year ago, prior to an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills proposed across the country and, of course, this new memo to eliminate non-binary identities out of law.
Despite the many challenges facing transgender and gender nonconforming youth in schools, it is critical that we also remember that they are, and always have been, extremely resilient in the face of adversity. In addition to learning about heightened discrimination, we also learned that 4 in 5 LGBTQ youth have been politically engaged and active this past year, and GSAs (Gender-Sexuality Alliances) led by incredible LGBTQ student leaders can now be found in more than half of schools. This picture offers us just a tiny sliver of the work many trans youth are doing in their local communities to speak up, raise awareness, and make a difference, and we know they are making huge strides, particularly among people their age.
Last night I stood alongside hundreds of transgender, non-binary, and intersex young adults in the heart of New York City to protest this new federally-sanctioned tactic of erasure. Despite my own sadness, fear, and outrage, I was reminded, standing in a sea of strong, empowered queer young people, that we are not doing this alone. We must remember that this memo comes at a time of heightened activism and resistance in every corner of the country to an administration that has targeted countless marginalized peoples, and the need for them to try and erase our existence only signals our fortitude.
We want you to know that you are not alone. Staff at GLSEN and the dozens of other national LGBTQ+ organizations across the country are working around the clock to ensure that trans youths’ voices are heard, and will not be silenced. We ask that you take care of yourselves and your students, and do not hesitate to reach out to us for direct support at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
For those ready to take action or looking for actions to share with peers, we suggest the following (amended from a list by Chase Strangio of the ACLU):
Educate, educate, educate!
- Read blogs written by students themselves like “8 Ways You Can Be An Ally to Intersex Youth” and “What Does Allyship with Non-Binary Students Look Like?”
- Talk to your school administration about bringing Professional Development to staff to spread awareness about trans identities and how to support LGBTQ students. Contact a local GLSEN Chapter to schedule certified GLSEN trainers come to your school.
Support to trans/intersex-led organizations!
- Support, follow, and amplify the messages of organizations like interACT, Intersex Justice Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project, Casa Ruby, FIERCE, TransLatin@ Collective, Trans Lifeline, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Trans Law Center, Southerners on New Ground, and Organizacion Latina de Trans En Texas (OLTT).
Pay attention to policies!
- YES ON 3 (MA) - There’s a ballot initiative coming to a vote on November 6th in Massachusetts that would repeal protections for transgender and non-binary people in public accommodations. This is the first statewide vote to strip trans people of their rights ever — and it would take away protections won in the legislature after decades of fighting to explicitly extend these protections to trans people
- Read into our “Model Policy for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” co-created with the National Center for Trans Equality to see how your school district can do better at protecting the rights of transgender students.