Story by :
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 12.30 BST
- The National Center for Transgender Equality found that 41% of transgender respondents had attempted suicide, compared to the national rate of 1.6%. Photograph: John Gress/Reuters
When I graduate high school in June, I will receive a diploma signed by a school administration that has marginalized me. Despite the suicides of two queer students, my school leaders have done absolutely nothing to improve the lives of the sexually diverse and gender diverse youth in my community. To add insult to injury, as I walk across that stage to receive that diploma, I will be accompanied by a group of students who have treated me as an outcast because of my identity.
Despite all of this, I count myself profoundly privileged. Unlike many other young trans women, I have never found myself on the streets, been forced to have survival sex, or been incarcerated. I’ve found the resolve and been given the resources needed to get to the point where I can count on my fingers the number of weeks between the present and the moment when I indignantly grab my diploma. Even more significantly, I’ll be able to walk off the graduation stage with the knowledge that, come the following semester, I’ll be working toward an undergraduate degree.
While I was able to make it within the system, earning grades and test scores that got me into numerous universities, the current K-12 education model was not meant for people like me. Consider the recent case of Coy Mathis, a transgender six-year-old girl whose school would not allow her to use the girl’s bathroom or George Zamazal, a transgender girl who had to involve the ACLU in order to just wear a dress to prom.
Those are the stories that make the news, but there are plenty that do not. For the majority of us, we go on to be successful despite our state-provided educations, not because of them. As you can imagine, we deal with marginalization, cultural erasure, minority stress and overt acts of hostility from students, staff and family – things that are in no way conducive to the health or academics of any student. To those young people who were unable to find a way through it all, no blame should ever be levied.
For me, college presents an escape into a functional social life, with access to a wider queer community. While I have high hopes, I also know that institutional oppression of sexually diverse and gender diverse young people still runs rampant on many university campuses. Smith College, a women’s college where it’s estimated that queer students make up a third of the student body, recently rejected a transwoman because her FAFSA said she was born male. Notre Dame just recently allowed a queer student group on campus – with the condition that they must promote lifelong abstinence for the queer community. To this day, only about a dozen colleges have added healthcare coverage for gender-related procedures, medication and therapy deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association to their student insurance plans.
The problems faced by queer youth have been oversimplified to a single principle: anti-bullying policies and non-discrimination statutes will be the magic bullets that improve the lives of queer youth suffering now. In truth, what we need is a systematic “queering” of our educational system.
Only when schools are committed to an overhaul will we stop seeing sexually and gender diverse young people harassed and marginalized. Students like me need be able to walk into classrooms where our gender identities are not assumed; find textbooks that include our history; listen to lessons that recognize our existence; use the bathroom without feeling scared or disingenuous; and have peers, teachers and administrators understand that the identities and experiences of queer people are natural and valuable.
As anyone who has been to the emergency room knows, it is common procedure to treat the most severe injuries and afflictions, not the most numerous. Too many trans young people receive terrible, persistent mistreatment at schools, but because there are less of us than cisgender Americans – those who identify with the gender announced at their birth – our problems are often overshadowed by the concerns of others.
While it’s good that cisgender, gay Americans are finally seeing their rights and concerns defended publicly, too many people still have stigmas about the trans community. Additionally, it must be understood that in vast majority of harassment cases, students are not targeted for having shown some perceived attraction the same gender, but because their behavior and appearance are seen as either too masculine for girls or too feminine for boys. Because our culture automatically connects gender variance with sexual diversity, more often than not anti-gay taunts are actually just veiled attacks on people who interpreted as gender non-compliant. Taking this into account, it becomes clear that working to end the stigma against transgender youth will help cisgender queer youth, as well.
My story isn’t unique. I’m speaking out because I want future queer youth to go to school in a safe environment where they are able to learn without the barriers of mistreatment and marginalization. Schools should call a timeout and change the game, because the responsibility to educate young people doesn’t contain exceptions, and telling straight kids to “stop bullying” just isn’t going to work.