It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that DeVos and Trump have placed transgender youth in a dangerous limbo. Almost everyone in the LGBTQIA community knows that Trump rescinded protections that the Obama administration gave transgender students. Not everyone knows that DeVos was uncomfortable with the decision. She was pressured by Jeff Sessions to comply and she resisted until Trump spoke with her. She was left with the options to comply or resign. DeVos did promise that all students, including transgender students, would still be accorded civil rights protections. In a memo dated June 6th, she outlined those rights and they are confusing.
I would love to be able to give you a clear run down on what protections my son, and all transgender students, now have and don’t have. I can’t. No one seems to be able to, which means that her own department is likely unclear. Here is what I can tell you. The memo does give instances in which officers can investigate a violation of a transgender student’s rights. Many of these range from not using a students chosen name or pronoun to instances where a school did not address a hostile environment towards a trans student. Missing from this write up are a student’s right to use the washroom or locker room they identify with. But wait! There’s more.
Also missing are clear instructions as to how to handle the situations that are listed. Part of the problem is that each individual department does not have to answer to Washington. Additionally, there are instructions on how to choose to dismiss a matter before it has been investigated. So to sum up what we do know. There are listed protections for transgender students. Violations of these protections do not have to be reported centrally to ensure consistency. A potential violation can be dismissed before it is even investigated.
It sometimes feels like every step forward we make in civil rights and equality we make two steps back. I know parents of transgender students in other school districts and other states who’s children are treated horribly in schools. There has been study after study done on how an unsafe and unequal school environment can have deadly consequences for a student facing the living hell called non acceptance. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. My son has lost three transgender friends to suicide who were students. They could not take a life without protections from the enduring torture they received. With no advocates, with no recourse, with no one to stand up for them, they could not go on anymore.
The high school my son used to attend had a rash of bully related suicides a few years back. Instead of addressing the issue, the former principle of Bolingbrook High School tried to say there were no bully related suicides because we did not have a proper definition of bullying. I’ve written about what happened to my son during his freshman year homecoming. My child got more civil rights protections that night from a taxi driver than he got from his school. Having to meet an unclear definition of bullying and having little to no response from his former school was scary. It was hurting him. He suffered depression and his grades plummeted. He was not safe. Moving to a safer environment gave an almost immediate improvement on his self worth as well as his academic performance. He actually wanted to go to school again.
We live in a state that has rights for transgender students that exceed the confusing federal guidelines DeVos put in place. He goes to a school district that has protections in place that go beyond what is offered by the state guidelines. He still faces issues, but in the grand scheme of things, we are very fortunate to be where we are. Many other transgender students are not. The actual number of trans students in schools is elusive for many reasons, but we do know that they affected disproportionately by bullying and have a much higher suicide rate.
When lives are on the line and you are the secretary of education, you have a duty and an obligation to the children of America to protect their civil rights and have clear and enforceable guidelines. But that is not the America we live in. We live in the America that has unclear memos handed down from Betsy DeVos that says…well…nothing helpful or useful.
I wish we had an education secretary who had better writing composition skills. It would be very helpful to know what rights my son does and does not have. It would also be nice to know what to do when his rights are violated.