By Ava M., 7th grade, Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, Va.
Sadly, active shooter drills have been implemented as a security strategy in schools everywhere.
The purpose of these drills is to quickly gather children into a safe space, so that in the event of an emergency, they would be protected. Yet, in one Virginia middle school, the county’s outdated, ill-informed gender-based policies trumped a trans student’s safety. During an active shooter drill, this student was made to sit in the hallway, alone, instead of sheltering with other female students in the girl’s locker room.
This behavior is an example of how too few educators understand how to treat transgender students in their school. I don’t see this as a failure of the staff, exactly, but rather their training, and how most of them aren’t taught how to treat students who do not fit the “cookie-cutter” image of the student that is presented to them. Therefore, they are at a loss as to how to behave, and can end up embarrassing or humiliating the child.
We all need to become more educated on how to properly accept, love and support our trans and nonbinary* youth. And that education should start in our schools. I have three suggestions:
1. Professional development: We need to train teachers and administrators how to treat non-cisgender** students with grace and compassion, and avoid issues like these, where under-trained staff forget to treat transgender students as people, and not aliens. Training will help teachers and administrators know how to help provide trans students with resources, like ones that help them come out to the school, or be accepted fully with their true identities.
2. Health education/curriculum: We need to educate students on how to treat their transgender and nonbinary classmates with an open mind and a caring attitude. A lot of kids barely know what transgender means, and don’t know the proper (and kindest) language to use about or to a trans friend or classmate. Without educating students on these issues, it can cause pain and social isolation to our transgender youth.
3. Social-emotional learning: SEL helps students learn behaviors that pertain to social health and relationships, which, in this case, would include helping cisgender students understand more about transgender students, and how they can create positive relationships with their transgender classmates. As a whole, SEL is a great model to teach kids how to interact with their surroundings in a constructive way, but it also helps close the boundaries between students, whether trans or cis.
Teacher/administrator training, student education, and funding for whole child education will all help advance these causes, and reduce the pain and humiliation many transgender students experience daily. These are our neighbors, friends and family members. They need resources just like our cisgender students do. It is our job to vote with everyone’s best interests at heart. As a student, I ask that you vote for those who cannot yet vote for themselves.
*Nonbinary is an umbrella term for individuals who don’t identify with any binary gender (i.e. male or female). Some non-binary people identify with the term “transgender,” and others do not. Those not so informed with the LGBTQ community might know these individuals as GNC (gender non-conforming), which is a more popular, but altogether misleading, term to describe people whose gender identities lie outside of the two main genders.
**Cisgender is a gender orientation where your gender identity and your genitalia match up. For example, a cisgender woman is someone who was born as a woman, and continues to identify as such. (Non-cisgender is equivalent to transgender or non-binary.)