In April 2015, a year before the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education under then-President Barack Obama issued guidance to public schools clarifying that Title IX protected transgender students, a school district in Virginia faced a dilemma: A fourth-grade student transitioned.
Initially, the school was accommodating, allowing the child access to facilities appropriate to their gender identity. But parents of other students in the school were not so forgiving.
They felt that their children would be, somehow, at risk from this child, or that allowing this kid to use a restroom that matched their presentation and gender would give carte blanche to predators to prey on their kids at school.
They demanded change, and they got it. The district voted 6-0 to bar that child from gender-appropriate facilities. She has used staff restrooms ever since, apparently unwelcome in facilities for either of the traditional genders.
In August 2016, a federal appeals court found in favor of transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who was barred from the facilities in his school district. The family of the child above cried when Grimm won that case, and hoped this would move their school district forward.
In September 2017, with the Obama administration quickly becoming a memory and the Department of Education now in the hands of Betsy DeVos, several community members filled a school board meeting, attempting to get the board to include pro-LGBTQ policies.
Among the speakers was the mother of that child, still barred from the facilities used by her classmates.
The school board was, seemingly, unmoved.
It is now 2018 and another, deadlier menace exists in our schools than was ever conceived in the scare tactics of the far right, targeting transgender elementary students who need a restroom as if they were sexual predators.
This new threat came to Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School and to campuses nationwide. It was death from those wielding handguns and assault weapons at school, killing scores of students and teachers.
We now live with the daily reality that a tragedy could befall children at any school in the nation. Retailers sell “bulletproof” backpacks today, and schools have instituted “lockdown” drills to teach children how to react.
Just like the “duck and cover” drills of the Cold War, students are taught to shelter in their rooms. With the doors locked and the windows tightly sealed, perhaps they are just as safe as their counterparts in the 1950s, hiding under their desks from the threat of nuclear fallout.
Just a week or two ago, a “lockdown” drill was held on a middle-school campus in Virginia. It was during physical-education classes, and the students dutifully filed into their locker rooms to shelter from an imaginary gunman who intended to murder them.
One girl was singled out. After all, in 2015 she was disallowed access to either locker room, and in spite of guidelines from a precedent-setting case in Washington, D.C., this child was still barred from both locker rooms.
Teachers and staff began to debate: What could they do with this child, who they could not apparently send to either locker room, to have a sense of safety from this faux shooter?
While they debated, she was made to sit in the gym with a teacher, segregated from her peers.
The staff debated some more, then sent her to sit in the hallway between the locker rooms by the door, but again separated from other students.
The school has since, in response to the outrage, noted that they have a different superintendent than they did in 2016, and that they would be reviewing all the procedures to make sure that “all children are treated with dignity and respect.”
Whether intentional or not, the message this school has sent is that no, not all students are worthy of “dignity and respect.” One student in particular has not been treated with either since 2015. One student has been segregated from her classmates, made into an interloper in a place where she should feel included.
What’s more, in the wake of this “lockdown” drill, her very life is worth less than any other student on that campus. If that hadn’t been a drill, would she have been left in the gym or a hallway, an offering to a shooter in the hope that other lives would be spared?
We knew that policies like this may lead transgender students to suicide, but I don’t think any of us expected that we’d potentially leave transgender kids in the path of a school shooter’s bullet.
Plain and simple, this is cruel, and there is no reason for it beyond fear and hatred.
It’s been four years, and the calendar should not change one more time before this transgender child is treated as an equal to her peers.
Gwen Smith wants some of that dignity and respect some day. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com.