Article

April 14th, 2021

Educator Voice: The urgent need for trans rights education

EducationHealthLGBTQOnline Learning
Ei Meeker (he/him/his) is an English and health education teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y. Credit: NPR

 

As more and more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation crops up around the country, here are three ways we can all support and empower our trans students. You may also want to read this article about a new poll showing Americans are overwhelmingly against anti-transgender laws.

By Ei Meeker, English and health education teacher, Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 28 states across the country, lawmakers are actively pursuing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that specifically targets transgender youth, primarily banning them from participating in girls’ sports and restricting access to gender-affirming health care.

As a trans educator, witnessing this meteoric rise in dangerous and completely unwarranted legislation is troubling enough, but the thought of how this will impact my students and countless others like them—and at such a formative time in their lives—is deeply saddening. Will hearing such hateful rhetoric make trans kids question their inherent value and worth? Will they get to live full, healthy childhoods, confident and happy as their authentic selves?

Will hearing such hateful rhetoric make trans kids question their inherent value and worth?

In a year that has already taken so much from all of us, but particularly from our kids, I know many teachers share my concerns and would like to do more to support trans students but simply don’t have the time and resources to know where to begin.

Here are three practical ways we can all support and empower our trans students, while teaching others to be allies of the LGBTQ+ community.

1. Increase visibility for the trans and wider LGBTQ+ community.

One of the most powerful tools to fight discrimination is visibility. This includes actively recruiting LGBTQ+ educators and staff, valuing their input and perspectives, but also incorporating stories of trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people and issues into the everyday curriculum.

If that sounds daunting, it doesn’t have to be. For example, in my health class, it could be as simple as including a unit on gender identity and how people can perceive themselves to be different from their sex assigned at birth—whether male, female, a blend of both or neither—and that’s okay—that’s part of the human spectrum of gender identity that meets best practices in health care.

Importantly, the lesson also centers the stories of trans and non-binary change-makers, ensuring that we’re not just showing students that trans people exist…

A great resource for more ideas and guidance is this free trans rights lesson plan that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Human Rights Campaign recently put out. It has everything from basic terms and definitions to real-life discussion topics and multimedia activities to engage students on the discrimination and harm the LGBTQ+ community faces.

Importantly, the lesson also centers the stories of trans and non-binary change-makers, ensuring that we’re not just showing students that trans people exist — or that our community, particularly trans women of color, continue to be targets of violence — but that trans people should be celebrated for their accomplishments as well. Sharing these intersections of identity are central to understanding trans lives.

2. Look for opportunities to affirm trans students, both directly and indirectly.

Words matter. And even seemingly small distinctions in how we recognize someone’s pronouns, for example, or interrupt and intervene if another student tries to bully one of their trans peers, is incredibly meaningful and impactful.

Educators can also play a key role in fostering an environment—whether on Zoom, a hybrid classroom setting or otherwise—where everyone feels safe and accepted. That could include advocating for a gender neutral bathroom, or making sure students aren’t accidentally outed in school records and documents, and ensuring that students know how to access adults they can trust as advocates and allies.

3. Remember why we all got into education; it has the power to change lives.

We’re all lifelong learners and won’t always get everything right the first go around. Just look at this powerful testimony from a Missouri father who finally understood, and respected, where his trans daughter was coming from after years of forcing her to dress in boys’ clothes and to play on boys’ teams—essentially “teaching her to deny who she is,” he confessed.

We’re all lifelong learners and won’t always get everything right the first go around.

Imagine the outsized impact if trans rights education was incorporated into our classrooms early on so that all kids, all future parents, would be equipped to celebrate and defend trans lives from the get go.

We as educators can only do so much to protect our students but my hope is, through empowerment and support, we will raise the next generation of human rights defenders, leaders in the truest sense, who are grounded in critical thinking, justice, kindness and collaboration for wherever life takes them next.


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