Prizm News / October 29, 2018 / By D’Anne Witkowski
GLSEN members rally at New York City Hall on Oct. 24 in reaction to the Trump administration’s plan to redefine gender in federal policies and programs to eliminate acknowledgment of transgender people. (GLSEN photo)

 

Commentary by D’Anne Witkowski

Being in middle school is tough. Your body is going through often mortifying changes: acne, body hair, growth spurts. Your hormones are raging. Kids are often relentlessly cruel to each other. You aren’t old enough to drive. Your parents are hopelessly lame.

Not to mention the active shooter drills you have to go through on a routine basis because the United States can’t get it together when it comes to guns. It’s revolting that protecting children from being slaughtered in math class is a partisan issue in this country and that Republicans are on the side of the guns. But that’s where we are.

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Also a partisan issue in this country is how, or whether, to protect transgender students. (Spoiler alert: Republicans are not on the side of the students. Again.) You might remember that the Obama administration issued guidelines to schools that said, essentially, “Hey, transgender students are human beings so treat them accordingly.”

In many schools this wasn’t a big deal. And by big deal, I mean it wasn’t much of an adjustment. It was, however, a big deal for trans students. I mean, if the president of the United States had advocated for the protection of LGBTQ students when I was in high school that would have meant the world to me. It would have made a lot of LGBTQ kids feel less alone and also feel a little safer.

However, the guidance led to a bit of scrambling in some more conservatives places in the country where treating trans kids as human was a very foreign concept. Much hand-wringing was done over where trans kids should pee or change for gym.

And then came the Trump administration. And the guidelines for protecting trans students were scrapped. Trans kids went from a president who cared about them to one who was actively hostile.

And so the issue of where trans kids should pee or change was left up to individual schools to figure out however they wanted. And some schools are doing a really bad job.

Case in point: what happened at a Stafford County middle school in Virginia on Sept. 28.

On that day, the school had an active shooter drill during which the teachers are charged with making sure students are sheltered in a designated area depending on where they are in the building. One of the places of safety at this middle school was the locker room. The boys went into the boys’ locker room and the girls went into the girls’ locker room.

Except for one girl in particular who wasn’t allowed in either locker room because she is transgender. According to multiple reports, the teachers didn’t know what to do with her and, after much debate, had the girl sit outside in the hallway, completely exposed to the attack that her other classmates were practicing how to survive.

Now, of course, it was only just a drill. It’s not like she was exposed to any real danger, right? Well, yes, technically. But the very point of a drill is to practice what you will do in the event of a real threat. And what was communicated to this young girl was, essentially, “You’re on your own.”

You don’t need guidance from the federal government to tell you that there is no such thing as expendable children. But when guidance that acknowledges that trans students exist and affirms their right to be protected is issued only to be taken away, that is a pretty strong signal to trans students and the people who are supposed to teach, protect and learn with them that they are worthless.

GLSEN, an organization that works for safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ students, just released its 2017 National School Climate Survey, which shows that “victimization of LGBTQ youth is not decreasing at rates previously seen—and has, in fact, gotten worse for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.”

And it won’t get better until we have elected officials in power who see LGBTQ youth as human beings. One of the best things you can do for LGBTQ people is to vote.

Make a plan to vote on Nov. 6. Spend some time researching the candidates. Since hostility to LGBTQ people is part of the Republican platform, voting for Democrats is pretty much a no brainer, but knowing who you’re voting for when it comes to judges and other non-partisan offices is also important.

A good resource is vote411.org.

If you’re thinking of sitting this election out, I urge you to think of that girl sitting alone in the hallway, imaginary bullets flying. Vote like her life depends on it.

Because it does.

D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com