Zach Stafford is a journalist for The Guardian who, after the Trump Administration this week moved to redact Federal enforcement protecting transgender students, called on people to write letters to their alma mater in support of equal protections for the full LGBTQ community in schools.
The following is letter I authored and sent to the Board of Education, senior leaders, and guidance counselors of every school in the district where I grew up. Identifying information redacted (*), as the purpose of this letter is not to incriminate that school district, but to encourage you to write a similar letter.
As an alumnus of * Schools, I would first like to thank you for your service to the school district and the broader community. Having completed my entire K-12 education at *, *, and *, and having grown up in the home of a public school educator, I am immensely appreciative of the work done by the faculty and staff of the * schools.
Unfortunately, the reason I am writing you now is to address a very serious concern that affects your families and the students of *. As I imagine you know, President Donald Trump this week moved to redact Federal enforcement for the protections of transgender students in public schools. As a matter of government policy, I appreciate that there is room to debate the merits of Federal- versus State-enforced regulation, but I am not inclined to try to persuade you that this is a matter for the Federal government. The truth is that this isn’t even necessarily a matter for the State government. In the end, it is a matter for you. The policies you set forth in the * are what have a direct and meaningful impact on the lives of the students over whom you keep watch and I am writing to ask that you take action to support every member of the LGBTQ community within your schools.
Just as the Civil Rights Movement was not a matter of water fountain segregation, the fight for equal LGBTQ rights is not a matter of bathroom use. According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA School of Law, the general population attempted suicide rate is just under 5%. For gay, bisexual, and lesbian people, this number ranges from 10 to 20%. For transgender people, this number is 41%. It’s nearly 10-times the national average. Furthermore, the study concludes that individuals who are forced to publicly identify themselves as being transgender (for example, by having to use a public restroom in which they feel they do not belong) have a still-higher incidence of suicidality. My reason for referencing these findings is to reinforce the importance of open minds and inclusive policies in public spaces.
I also want to draw to your attention a few anecdotal points, as it can often be difficult to conceptualize academic findings in real life. There may or may not currently be any openly transgender students in any of the * schools - some may be too young to know, some may be unsure how to process the complexities of gender and sexuality. They are there though, as are other students who currently or will eventually identify with the LGBTQ community.
There was only 1 openly-gay student in my graduating class of 2012; it wasn’t me. Some years later, I know of a half-dozen openly-LGBTQ people from my class. Similar frequencies exist in the classes leading and following mine. There were no openly transgender people in any class during the 4 years I attended *. I know of 2 today who have undergone the gender affirmation surgery, one of whom is happily engaged to be married in the next year. I have no doubt there are others.
To speak more candidly about my own experience in the * school system, there were many highs and lows. I did not come out as a gay man until the age of 20, but that didn’t save me from consistent bullying from the 4th grade until graduation. In fact, it followed me to college. I’m lucky to be able to say I never experienced physical abuse at school, nor did I have to worry about which bathroom to use, but I suffered more than my fair share of torment, nonetheless. Because I was different.
I held an above-4.0 GPA my entire tenure at *, including multiple AP classes as well as Post-Secondary education at the University of Cincinnati, I was a member of the National Honor Society, I was a multiple-sport Varsity athlete, played the lead in school theater productions, was heavily involved in the school’s choral program, eventually as President of the chorus, served as Prom Committee President, served as Senior Class President, and I volunteered more than 100 hours of community service. I was also, at many times, unhappy to the point of contemplating suicide.
Today I have an Honors degree in Economics from Miami University. I work in an international role at Fortune 500 Company, having lived in Chicago, Toronto, and now New York City. I also founded and operate a 501c3 non-profit organization for the betterment of the LGBTQ community. I grew up in a loving family with a brother, two parents, and an extended family that did nothing but love and support me to the best of their ability. I wanted for very little in my 18 years at home.
If I, at times, contemplated what it would mean to end my own miserable existence for more than a decade, I can guarantee you with the gravest certainty that there is someone in your school district currently doing the same.
To say that it is imperative that you address the social issues facing our country today with an open heart and compassion for the lives and minds you have been commissioned to develop is a euphemism unlike any other I can currently imagine. I implore you to please consider enacting public policy that will make every student in the * school system feel at home.
With admiration and thanks,