Last week, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance on protecting transgender kids in school by allowing them to use the restroom for the gender with which they identify (a good explainer is here). As we noted at Kveller, this felt to many like a license to bully or discriminate—and sowed a lot of unfortunate confusion.
Since then, well-meaning people have shown their support for affected students online with the hashtag #protecttranskids, which is great. But how do we actually protect trans kids in our own spaces and communities? To start answering that question, I called Daniel Bahner, the National Director of Education and Training at LGBTQ advocacy organization Keshet, to ask about what steps we can take at home, in our schools, and with our peers who might not fully understand this issue–including ourselves.
As parents, how should we start protecting trans kids? What’s step one?
At home, when it relates to their own children, parents should allow their children to be whoever they are, and to not dictate or try to change any behaviors that are gender nonconforming. So that means allowing a little boy to play dress up or play with Barbies, sending the message that that’s okay. Because kids get the messages all over the place that there are things girls are supposed to do and boys are supposed to do. If parents are perpetuating those–this is the most important relationship in the kids’ life—the message they receive is that something about them is not okay and they have to hide something.
For older, elementary schoolers or teens, the key is putting the value on their child being happy rather than on the child fulfilling an idea of what the parents thought they would be. Even if their child doesn’t identify as trans or gender non-conforming they might have friends who do. So they can be extending the same kind of courtesy and freedom to those friends.
Overall, it’s about putting the preference on making young people feel seen and loved rather than putting them in a box.
Going beyond the home, what concrete things can we do to make our communities safe and welcoming?
Institutionally speaking, parents can talk to day schools and public schools, school board, synagogues or religious schools. We can make sure those institutions have good policies [here’s a handy pdf guide] in place–if they do, we can ask that they come out publicly with their inclusive policies. And we can push them and agitate if they don’t have those policies.
Parents can actively work within the school systems that they’re part of to make sure young people are supported. One thing to do is push to have all-gender bathrooms available–it’s important that trans kids be able to go into the bathroom that affirm their identity, but they should also have the option to go into a bathroom that’s open for anyone to use.
Parents can also push themselves to engage in larger forms of activism or education, attend programs and events they might not normally consider, and show up and advocate for LGBT kids. They need to say loud and clear that they believe that trans lives matter – why? Because they value a safe environment for all.
One of the biggest questions I have is about what to do when someone in your community seems well-meaning but you feel like they’re messing up or being offensive on trans issues, or specifically on trans bathroom issues? What are some strategies for handling that firmly but gently?
The first step is for an individual to humbly examine what they themselves don’t know. Maybe they’ve been exposed to this conversation for only two months longer than their neighbor. So we have to educate ourselves on the issues and also be sure not come across as some kind of know-it-all. You can’t educate someone else unless you take a hard look at your own biases.
Being an ally is about being a person who speaks up, being a voice for people who may not have one. If you do hear a transphobic remark or if someone using is the wrong terminology make sure you speak up. And do it in appropriate way, only if you feel safe.
But definitely if it’s someone with whom you have a rapport, speak up. In social justice circles, there’s this idea of “calling out” vs. “calling in.” “Calling” in means grounding the work of trans inclusion with values. So when someone doesn’t seem to be getting it, you say, “I know that person Q values respecting other people. If then I hear them say something offensive, I can say ‘I know that you believe these things, so if you do, [respecting and including trans people] is an extension of that.”