July 9th, 2021

Educator Voice: A school social worker’s take on gender identity and school policy

EducationELAHealthSocial StudiesU.S.
Opponents of several bills targeting transgender youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House to draw attention to anti-transgender legislation introduced in Alabama on March 30, 2021 in Montgomery, Alabama. There are so far 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the United States. Of those, 93 directly target transgender people. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)


By Monica Belton, school social worker, Virginia


The decision to allow transgender youth to use the school bathroom of the gender they identify with has been labeled a culture war. I’m not a linguist, but I’m pretty sure that in order to have a war, you must have at least two competing sides. Mustn’t the same be true of a culture war?

Let’s be clear. This is not a war. This is a one-sided battle, and so calling it a culture battle makes more sense to me.

The side doing the battling believes that there are traditional ways of determining gender that must be enforced, although that sounds like an extreme violation of privacy to me. Others, including many parents, support the rights of young people to claim their gender and think it is appropriate to allow for those children to be treated respectfully.

Listening to the crowd of people worried about their children being victims of sexual exploitation because they would change in the same locker rooms with transgender students makes me question if there is any evidence to support this claim. Is there any data to support the idea that transgender students using the bathrooms or locker rooms of their choice may be a threat to others?

I thought I would do some research nonetheless. What I quickly concluded was that far from being a threat, transgender people are actually more likely to become victims of violent crimes. (I have to pause here to take note of the attempts to villainize Black people that leads to the same conclusion.)

So what else is really important? Is the cost of ignoring the subsumption of transgender youth a price that many are paying with their future, and often their lives? There is research that indicates that all members of the LGBTQIA community are more likely to not finish school at all (see Sundara’s “School Dropouts and Educational Rights of Transgender,” International Journal of Applied Social Science, 2019). Other studies highlight the growing amount of the LGBTQIA youth who die by suicide at a rate five times higher than heterosexual youth (CDC, 2016).

With lives and mental health at stake, what could be considered good reasons to adopt inclusive policies? And what are the rationales for adopting policies that are proven to inhibit the emotional growth of young people who are struggling to identify themselves and fit in?

In this culture battle, there is one side that is pushing people to the margins of society. But why? What are the risks to this side? I suppose the biggest risk would be confronting the notion that, one day, someone could treat them the exact same way.

Monica Belton received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Arizona State University and has been working with children and families for 19 years. Monica has been a social worker with several organizations  in North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Virginia. She is also a Certified Trauma Professional in Education. Monica is an advocate and activist for equity, social justice and mental health awareness. She is also the founder of the non-profit organization, Resilient Experiences for Children Exposed to Trauma, R.E.C.E.T., which works to strengthen support for young people who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences by providing education and consultation services. 


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