Christina Sets Precedent for Protections for Trans Youth
Earlier this year, the Christina School District enacted a new policy protecting transgender students within this northern Delaware public school district. The policy addresses protections concerning a student’s name/pronoun identification, and the use of bathrooms and facilities according to the student’s gender identity. It also covers the practice of using students’ legal names for parents unless specified and deferring all athletics to the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA), which generally allows athletes to compete on the team that matches their gender identity.
The policy comes after the failed Regulation 225, which was met with resistance from conservative groups when introduced in 2018. Those tribulations make Christina’s policy a sweet little victory, and a remarkable precedent for statewide change in Delaware.
“I think it is a sign of progress,” said Andrea Rashbaum, a mother of a trans child. See more in her LGBTQ+ YA column here.
Another advocate and mother of a trans child, who chose to remain anonymous, also sees the new policy as a step in the right direction. “Now we have a precedent in one district, where somebody has codified what is already the law,” she said. “We have something to point to with Christina.”
Across many of the state’s districts, trans students are not explicitly protected under any guidelines, including in Cape Henlopen School District. The lack of formal policy leaves room for bullying, discrimination, and insecurity among one of the most vulnerable communities in schools. It should be a simple truth: trans youth deserve protections, and safety in their classrooms.
“We can’t be the only state without guidance,” said the advocating mother, who recently moved back to Delaware having grown up here. “It’s deeply embarrassing.” Notably, Delaware is currently surrounded by states and districts that have guidelines for trans students, including Maryland, DC, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania’s bordering district.
The recognition of those protections trace back to 2016 with the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, widening the scope of the law’s protection against sex-based discrimination to include transgender students. The administration sent a letter to districts nationwide outlining this interpretation, yet many districts still did not subscribe. Ultimately, Cape Henlopen School District opted to judge the protections on a case-by-case basis.
That lack of clarity demanded more explicit action in Delaware, leading to Regulation 225. Ordered by Gov. John Carney in 2017, the proposed law attempted to make explicit protections against gender-based discrimination. Rashbaum, who is also an English teacher in Delaware, worked on the team drafting the regulation.
“It was very disappointing to see how far we’ve come, with the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage, and the state of Delaware saying that LGBTQ people have rights, and that transgender adults have rights in the workplace. And yet we’re not protecting our most vulnerable population, which is the kids who can’t always advocate for themselves,” said Rashbaum. Part of the problem for Rashbaum was not seeing enough queer youth representation on the committee.
“That’s why it’s so important to know who your community is,” said Barbara Antlitz, Youth Coordinator with CAMP Rehoboth’s YOUTH Up program since 2019. Since that time, Antlitz has worked to establish Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) in Kent and Sussex County schools, providing opportunities to bring LGBTQ+ youth together and share their voices. “Bringing the youth to the table is really imperative to hear their voices and give them active roles in the solution,” said Antlitz.
The road to progress is often derailed by the opposition’s tendency to focus on one issue. A few years ago, a fixation on bathrooms sparked national debate, turning the conversation from human rights into a discussion about deviant behavior.
But according to Rashbaum, “the things that stand out to people like bathrooms and locker rooms are not what necessarily stand out to the youth, and not necessarily what stands out to each individual trans student.” For Regulation 225, the momentum was halted by groups demanding parental consent, since the law would have allowed students to use a different name at school than at home. For Rashbaum, that issue boils down to concerns over safety for the trans child.
“How can I put a child in a situation where there might be some sort of verbal abuse, neglect, physical abuse, or being thrown out of home? How can I—if a child tells me they’re afraid to tell their parents—how, as a mandatory reporter, can I knowingly put them in a harmful situation?” asks Rashbaum. As an educator, Rashbaum defers to her responsibility as a mandatory reporter, a duty that calls teachers to report instances of neglect up the chain. With that in mind, putting the student in danger isn’t a viable option.
Indeed, it isn’t safe for every trans or non-binary student to come out at home. There, trans youth often face a lack of understanding at best, and neglect at worst. Trans students may still encounter reparative or conversion therapies, usually faith-based treatments, that the Human Rights Campaign has cited as psychologically harmful, and which has been rejected by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and many other respected organizations.
The latest fixation is with sports, as cited by Alethea Smith-Tucker, the only board member in opposition to the new Christina policy. According to the Delaware mother who recently moved back to her home state, “The fear is that trans girls are going to take over sports,” she said. “There are some trans girls interested in sports, but that’s really not even the cliché. The stereotype is the opposite. They’re interested in arts, theatre, and dance.” While there are certainly talented athletes among trans girls, the fixation over one kind of athlete should not be the dominant talking point. “I’m tired of talking about the mythic superhuman athlete. I want to talk about the average trans kid’s experience.” In other words, the issue is “about not understanding who trans girls are,” the mother said.
“It’s just another distraction—distracting from the fact that these are human rights,” said the mother.
Distractions or complacency should not be options, especially when major tides are turning. Last November, Sarah McBride was elected as the first transgender State Senator in US history, serving Delaware’s First District. When Antlitz organized a Zoom in early February with Kent and Sussex County GSAs, McBride shared her powerful story and moved some to tears. McBride’s background—transitioning years ago, advocating and becoming instrumental into passing non-discrimination legislation for trans individuals in the workplace, falling in love and losing her late husband to cancer—resonated with the courageous spirits of trans youth in Delaware.
Sarah’s bravery is fueled by the memory of her husband and the passion to share her story in an effort to not only inspire others, but also deepen the empathy of the opposition. “Sharing stories is the only way to build empathy,” McBride said. At the same time, McBride recognizes that there is inherent privilege in sharing oneself with others, one not afforded to trans youth who feel that coming out is not a safe option. Still, “it’s difficult to hate someone whose story you know,” said McBride.
Next month, this column will continue with stories from three trans and non-binary Delaware students who share McBride’s courageous spirit, and will offer their experiences, perspectives, and hopes for future change.
Matty Brown is a journalist and Operations Administrator at CAMP Rehoboth. This article was made possible through consultation with Barbara Antlitz, Youth Coordinator of YOUTH Up, CAMP Rehoboth’s youth program.