Sharing Students’ Stories
This is the second installment in a three-part series on the Christina School District’s action to secure the rights, safety, and well-being of transgender students.
Earlier this year, the Christina School District enacted a policy to protect transgender students within the district’s public schools. It’s a remarkable precedent for change in a state where other districts leave no guidance for students or teachers.
Christina’s step in the right direction also comes at an urgent time. This past month, the ACLU reported an estimated 30 states are considering anti-trans legislation. The various bills look to prohibit healthcare for trans youth, restrict single-sex facilities, exclude trans youth from athletics, and promote religious-based discrimination of LGBTQ folk. Plus, while many districts outside Delaware have guidelines to protect trans students, the First State’s lack of protections leaves room for bullying, inconsistent rules, and insecurity among an already marginalized population.
Three students, who will all remain anonymous, have shared their experiences with Letters. They chose to share their stories to help build empathy and educate the general public.
The first student, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, graduated from a high school in the Red Clay Consolidated School District.
“There was no policy or guidance for teachers to go off from,” they said. During the early 2010s’ “It Gets Better” campaign, the student was harassed, and the bullies were essentially expelled. But according to the student, that kind of disciplinary action rarely, if ever, happens. The need for state guidelines to explicitly prohibit bullying and harassment of trans and non-binary students is essential.
The second student, a senior in high school, is currently in the process of changing his name. Delaware’s practice for changing names as a minor is tedious, but easier to complete than waiting until adulthood. Minors must first submit a proposed name for publication in a local newspaper once a week for three weeks. Then, they must get parental consent before filing a Family Court petition with a number of other documents before a judge can approve.
Yet, the proliferation of approvals multiply under the bureaucracy of education. “I’m unsure whether my correct name will appear on my diploma,” said the senior, who has tried to see his diploma after hearing that names on the document must match school and legal records. Though graduation should be a joyous time for a senior, the period has been marked with stress and uncertainty.
For the Red Clay graduate, they recalled when their school’s student government confirmed how students’ names would like to be called at graduation. Primarily, this measure was taken to respect English as a Second Language (ESL) students’ choice for using either birth names or an anglicized version often used in the classrooms. Trans and non-binary students deserve the same respect.
That lack of respect translates often as misgendering students. As with many major changes, pronouns are going to be a learning curve for some. But to continually and intentionally misgender someone feeds insecurity among trans and gender nonconforming youth.
“My teachers and classmates are good about my name, but not my pronouns,” said a third Delawarean student. As a middle school student, she realized her gender identity was different from her sex assigned at birth at an early age. “I feel like I’m annoying others by correcting,” she said. Often, trans and gender nonconforming students are already experiencing gender dysphoria, a feeling of discomfort that might occur in those whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. Adding microaggressions can further destabilize students.
“Sometimes, it can feel like a lot to correct people,” said the senior student. “It hurts.”
“There should be a rule against students using birth names,” suggested the middle schooler. Also known as a “deadname,” the name assigned to transgender individuals at birth is offensive to use after a new name is selected.
The policy enacted within Christina School District promotes the privacy and confidentiality of a student’s name. This means teachers and faculty could use trans students’ birth names with families if the student does not feel safe coming out at home.
Enforcing dress codes is another issue that would benefit from clearer guidelines, according to the students.
“For graduation, guys had to wear navy blue and girls were to wear white,” said the graduate. They and their friends all responded by wearing sky blue in what’s since become a tradition at the school.
The senior related to that experience. “For graduation pictures, non-binary folk are barred from wearing a tux or dress that didn’t match their presentation, because they ‘had to be transitioning,’” he said. Without formal guidelines in place, gender non-conforming students are subject to strict and offensive rules like these.
There is a bias in enforcing dress code violations that disproportionately targets feminine-presenting students versus masculine-presenting students, the senior reported anecdotally. He added, “Trans men are grouped in with the feminine-presenting bias.”
Another concerning issue is access to proper facilities. “There are no gender-neutral bathrooms,” the senior said about his school. Although the nurse’s office is offered, it’s too difficult for the student to access during and between classes. Plus, many teachers employ a strict policy to not interrupt class time with bathroom use.
“I have often chosen to just not go to the bathroom,” said the senior. Yet, as pointed out in last issue’s YA Column by Andrea Rashbaum, students “must not be limited to a staff bathroom or a nurse’s facility,” or else the school would violate the case law established in Doe vs. Boyertown. In that case, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court with jurisdiction over Delaware, argued in the interest of preventing discrimination against transgender students.
The first statewide push for policy—known as Regulation 225—failed after conservative groups co-opted the momentum in the name of parental consent. Since then, there has been skepticism among the students that new policy will even be enacted. The backlash from the previous push for protections alongside what the students view as “homophobia in the leadership” point to a bigger problem, one that would not be addressed by a local policy change.
“It’s an equity issue,” said Barbara Antlitz, CAMP Rehoboth Youth Coordinator. “It’s deeper; it’s the belief and lack of understanding and sensitivity. It’s discriminating against a group of folks who are already feeling isolated and marginalized. It’s vital to the well-being of our youth that we speak up and out to ensure their voices are heard.”
“We need a top-down, bottom-up approach,” said the graduate of a high school in the Red Clay school district. “These policies are good to refer back to when bullying or harassment happens, but there also needs to be a culture shift.” ▼
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.