We will not demean and stigmatize transgender students

The NEA and the North Carolina Association of Educators believe all students deserve the opportunity for a rich and fulfilling education, an opportunity that should begin with walking into a welcoming, safe and accepting space.

That’s why we’ve vehemently opposed H.B. 2, the North Carolina law that eliminates protections for the state’s LGBTQ citizens. Among other requirements, the law prohibits public schools from allowing transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify.

This week, NEA and NCAE proudly stepped up our advocacy by filing an amicus brief urging a federal appeals court to stop North Carolina from enforcing the law.

Earlier this year, at our 2016 Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, delegates adopted a New Business Item mandating that the NEA take action to stem the tide of discrimination and violence targeting LGBTQ citizens. Part of that plan includes our support of the legal challenge to H.B. 2 and similar laws in other states, including Mississippi.

We’ve also been outspoken supporters of the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance on this issue, offered jointly with the U.S. Department of Justice, emphasizing that schools must treat students consistent with their gender identity. We want all students to experience a sense of belonging and inclusion because it provides a solid foundation for learning and development.

The North Carolina law, however, sends a message of exclusion, disdain and even hatred.

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In a word, H.B. 2 is cruel. It is the most overt stigmatization of transgender students any state has ever passed. It marks transgender students as unworthy of society’s equal respect, making them outcasts and pariahs who should be feared by the larger community.

“The ‘necessary consequence’ of H.B. 2 is to demean and stigmatize transgender students,” our brief states. “These children will forever ‘suffer the stigma of knowing’ that in the eyes of the state, they are ‘somehow lesser.’”

Our brief argues that H.B. 2 signals that intentional discrimination against transgender students is acceptable, promotes bullying and degrades the school climate for all students.

By prohibiting transgender students from using bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, the law forces them to make extremely difficult choices. They skip meals to avoid having to use the bathroom during the day, but of course thirst and hunger make concentrating difficult. Gender-neutral bathrooms are not the answer because they require students to “out” themselves to teachers. This risks further ostracizing them and isolating them from other students.

North Carolina lawmakers justify the law by making a ridiculous claim: that it protects women and children from sexual assault and voyeurism. Their theory is that if transgender people could use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, men would use the law to visit the women’s room and assault women.

That preposterous notion is backed up by zero evidence from the state. In our research, none of the jurisdictions that allow transgender people to use facilities consistent with their gender identity experienced sex crimes as a result of their laws.

And we know that inclusive transgender policies in schools work.That’s why the NEA is urging schools and districts to adopt them. Now, you may be aware that in August, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling that prevents enforcement of the guidance provided by the Education and Justice departments. But that ruling does not stopschools from creating trans-inclusive policies, and we must keep moving forward to protect our students. If you need assistance, take a look at our “Legal Guidance on Transgender Students’ Rights,” written this past summer.transgender-students

We interviewed educators across the nation, some of whom were involved in creating their school’s or school district’s policies. These educators work with students who are grappling with their gender identity. They see students struggling with accepting who they are, coming out to parents, teachers and friends, and enduring abuse and bullying. And thankfully, they also see students overcoming all of these obstacles to create meaningful lives for themselves. 

We have an obligation to stand by their side. The educators we interviewed told us that transgender students who feel supported have higher grade point averages, better attendance records and higher self-esteem. They are bullied less and feel more at home in their school communities. Isn’t that the kind of experience we believe all students should have?

This is not rocket science. The bottom line is that every student in our schools deserves respect for the unique, capable, brave and beautiful human being that he or she is. And we shouldn’t let any state law stand in the way of doing what we know to be right.

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