QUEER VOICES

Trans Kids Are In Danger. It's Our Job To Protect Them.

Which side of history are you on?

Wednesday night, President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded a policy put in place by then-President Obama that bars public schools from discriminating against transgender students on a federal level ― and which allows trans kids to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

This controversial move will place decisions about the rights of transgender minors in public schools on the state level ― and sends a very clear message to trans kids and teens about their status as second class citizens in this country.

Bathrooms, of course, have become a central political battleground over the last couple of years for the transgender community. From North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2 to recent Texas legislation ― conservative politicians all over the country are hellbent on legislating where transgender people can literally exist in public space. 

It’s human nature, in a way, to find it hard to understand things that feel completely out of our realms of experience ― or that seem incredibly distant from our families, friends or day-to-day lives. It can also be easy to rationalize dismissing the thoughts, feelings and identities of children or young people as fleeting or temporary.

But the fact remains that there are ― and always will be ― children who are transgender. There are children and teenagers whose gender don’t fit into our society’s understandings of what it means to be male or female. And these young Americans deserve the same legislative protections as everyone else ― and honestly need them much more than most other kids.

An estimated .05 and 1.5 percent of teenagers identify as transgender. And while this number may seem small, for perspective, gay Americans make up only roughly 3.8% of the population. And the very fact that this legislation only affects 1.5% of teens and kids makes institutionalizing nondiscrimination protections for them even more dire ― because it places them even more in the cultural bullseye.

Transgender teenager Jazz Jennings.
Transgender teenager Jazz Jennings.

Regardless of whatever stunts the Trump administration decides to pull, on March 28 the Supreme Court will hear a case centered around 17-year-old Gavin Grimm’s fight to use the boy’s restroom at his Virginia public school. 

The results of this case will have profound, longstanding implications for the transgender community on a federal level, and could either enshrine protections for transgender students nation-wide or literally institutionalize cruelty and pain for trans and gender non-conforming students across America for years to come. Previously, lower courts used Obama’s reasoning ― Title IX ― to side with him. Now that Trump has taken that away, there are serious and present legal questions.

As always, it is our responsibility as citizens to look out for one another ― to educate ourselves about things that we don’t understand and be empathetic towards the experiences of others that may seem strange to us. This includes children and teenagers who have different experiences of gender than we do.

Now ― essentially all of Trump’s presidency ― is a time where those of us with power and privilege need to use it to protect and speak out for those that don’t.

So what can you do? It starts with education. If you have questions about transgender identity, intersex identity, or children who fall across the spectrum of gender identity, Katie Couric just produced an amazing documentary called “Gender Revolution” that provides an accessible and comprehensive look at evolving cultural understandings of gender, as well as the way gender shapes all our lives and experiences ― especially in the worlds of children and teens.

Look into resources and groups to support with your time or finances like Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline for the transgender community, or the ACLU, who will represent Grimm in his SCOTUS case.  

But perhaps most importantly of all: talk to people in your immediate communities about the upcoming SCOTUS case and the experiences of transgender kids and teens in this country. Work to change the hearts and minds in the networks of people already around you.

The impetus is on those of use that believe in the greater good. Transgender young people across the country right now need our support and our voices ― and we all have to decide which side of history we want to be on.

James Michael Nichols is a queer writer and cultural critic whose work focuses heavily on the intersections of identity, art and politics. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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