Hope for Future Change
This is the final installment of a three-part series on the Christina School District’s action to secure the rights, safety, and well-being of transgender students.
To mark the start of Pride Month, President Biden issued a proclamation that responded, in part, to the estimated 30 states drafting discriminatory bills targeting trans youth in schools, especially in athletics. “For all of our progress, there are many states in which LGBTQ+ individuals still lack protections for fundamental rights and dignity in hospitals, schools, public accommodations, and other spaces,” said the president. It’s a reminder that to fully celebrate Pride Month, every member of the queer community must be advocated for and protected.
Not all public schools in Delaware have protections for trans and nonbinary students, even as the First State is surrounded by districts with explicit policies. Earlier this year, the Christina School Board did enact a policy to protect trans and non-binary students within its public schools. As a remarkable precedent for Delaware’s statewide guidelines, parents, teachers, and students have shared their perspectives and hopes for future change. But like any solution to a longstanding problem, the steps forward require more than just policy.
“The action steps are driving education, awareness, and community involvement before we shift to policy and procedure,” said CAMP Rehoboth Youth Coordinator Barbara Antlitz. In other words, the community must be actively educated around trans youth issues, aware of and empathetic for the needs of local youth, and involved in grassroots programs to bolster both moving forward.
Like Letters, resources including the Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) give the community opportunities to spread education and awareness. The Trevor Project, for example, promotes advocacy, education, guidance on how to make one’s language more inclusive, and more.
“It’s getting those people who don’t even know they’re being silent to use their voice for good,” said Andrea Rashbaum, mother of a transgender child and an English teacher in Delaware.
Rashbaum points to community programming like drag queen reading hour at libraries, which can be requested by parents, as one such initiative. She also points to the HRC’s event, “I Am Jazz Day,” where public readings share aloud the book of the same name that follows Jazz Jennings, a YouTube personality, trans youth, and HRC Youth Ambassador.
CAMP Rehoboth encourages the public to stay engaged by continuing to self-educate. A great place to start is to register for the June 23 Transgender and Non-binary Panel Discussion on Gender webinar where an audience will listen to and get to know five trans and non-binary youth as they share their stories and perspectives about how gender is not absolute, but instead a fluid concept. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for this event.
“Once you have people at the community level who recognize the LGBTQ community as real people, then they are willing to help,” said Rashbaum.
Taking such steps, Delaware residents will be better positioned to push for statewide guidelines that will grant trans and non-binary students protections in public schools. This means extending Christina’s policy for protecting students’ names/pronouns in classrooms, keeping confidentiality regarding parents when necessary, allowing access to appropriate facilities, and allowing athletes to compete with the team that matches their gender identity. Fortunately, there’s action occurring on several fronts that is driving this change.
In response to the variety of lawsuits in the court system, the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX widened the scope of sex-based discrimination to include protections for trans students. Court cases around the country are also favoring trans and non-binary youth. That includes the case Doe v. Boyertown, in which the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals (a federal court with jurisdiction over Delaware) decided in favor of protecting trans students against discrimination.
Last summer, the US Supreme Court interpreted Title VII in a landmark case to protect trans individuals in the workplace. In addition, the Biden administration continues to push the Equality Act, which calls on existing civil rights law to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.
In Delaware, Christina’s policy has codified what is already law. Rashbaum says she hopes other districts will look at Christina’s example and adopt a trans youth protection policy.
Further, a political front with elected LGBTQ officials like State Senator Sarah McBride and State Representative Eric Morrison may signal hope for future legislation. With the case precedent clearly in favor, making these protections explicit through statewide guidelines should not be a far reach.
Additionally, parents drive advocacy forward.
“The group of parents coming in, no longer being cowed by stigma or religious affiliations, are stepping up and saying ‘I’m completely proud of my child as they are, and they should get rights like everyone else,’” said the mother of a trans child who recently moved back to Delaware after growing up here.
In fact, growing parental support and understanding can have tremendous influence on protections for youth. As the mother explained, “the fierceness of love can go a long way.”
“I think it’s recognizing that no matter who it is, everybody has fears and hopes. We don’t want to prey on their fears, and we want to help them fulfill their hopes,” said Rashbaum.
That’s why giving students active roles in the solution is so important. For the three students interviewed in last month’s issue of Letters, the solution starts in the classroom.
“It should be the case where guidelines are needed for adding LGBTQ+ education in schools,” said an alum of the Red Clay school district. The alum, a non-binary graduate who uses they/them pronouns, worked with their Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and health teacher to include LGBTQ subject matter in sexuality discourse, and to acknowledge trans students in health class.
A trans senior at a Sussex high school also worked with his health class instructor through his GSA. “Our teacher would talk about LGBTQ+ health, but only if asked,” said the senior, noting that it should be a standard practice.
To this, Antlitz noted that many “schools are only allowed to teach cis gendered-centered health and sex education,” she said, adding, “Bringing in resources like Planned Parenthood are crucial to raise more LGBTQ awareness in the classroom.” Unfortunately, leaving the decision to partner with Planned Parenthood to the health instructor often leads to inaction.
Beyond classes, the culture of education also needs to shift.
“We shouldn’t split everything by the gender-binary,” said a third student, a trans middle schooler. Discovering her gender identity early on, she recognizes just how categorizing by only male or female “is disrespectful and outdated,” she said. In early education, the gender-binary dictates many routine classroom activities like lining up for recess by gender and enforces gender norms through dress codes. This sparks insecurity for folks still discovering their gender identity.
In the future, the mother who returned to Delaware says, “In 10 years, I want to look back and say, ‘was there really a time we didn’t say gay, lesbian, queer in the classroom? Even if the teacher was a lesbian?’ I want everything that I’ve said and written on the subject to sound so outdated that I sound old-fashioned.”
Likewise, harnessing that hope, revisiting this column in 10 years should, fingers crossed, be a productive exercise in tracking progress, language, and education for trans and non-binary youth. ▼
Matty Brown is the 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.