School Acceptance of Transgender Students

OXFORD – As our generation gets older and more educated, everyone seems to be learning more about issues such as gender and sexuality. Different areas of daily are becoming more accepting to changes and making accommodations to provide for “different” people the same way as everyone else.

A highly debated subject in this matter is how schools treat students who don’t fit into a common category when it comes to gender. Most know of the extended debate about allowing transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. It’s still an ongoing battle, with 19 states and over 200 municipalities equipped with anti-discrimination laws when it comes to use of public facilities as of March 2017, according to an article published by CNN.

Of those 19 states, Ohio is not one.

Treatment of transgender and non-binary students extends beyond bathrooms, though. Many schools barely have anti-harassment policies to protect students of any sexual or gender identity, but Talawanda luckily has policies on this in place.

Talawanda’s Policy Manual states in policy 5517 under section 5000, “The Board will vigorously enforce its prohibition against discriminatory harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and transgender identity)…”

It’s estimated that 0.7 percent of all 13- to 17-year-olds living in the United States are transgender and/or gender non-binary, according to an issue by Education Week. This statistic of 150,000 teenagers may seem meager, but that mentality is the kind that can lead to thoughtless discrimination against others in schools.

Of transgender teenagers, many do identify as gender non-binary, a lack of identification with either male or female. People who are non-binary can fall into a wide spectrum of identities, some more specific than others. Respect and understanding towards these students is visibly lower than those transgender students who fall into a binary gender of “male” or “female.”

Not only are they often disrespected or shunned by other students in schools, but are frequently harassed violently, not only in school. The Center for American Progress found in a survey that 70 percent of transgender individuals experienced harassment or physical violence in places such as public restrooms. One study in New York also surveyed that 75 percent of transgender students experienced verbal harassment over the course of a year, and on top of that, one third of them had been physically abused. 15 percent reported being pushed out of school altogether.

Of students who experience such discrimination in schools, those regarding to non-binary people are statistically higher, because most classmates prefer not to take the time to fully understand something so different.

I spoke to Mrs. Merz, a Talawanda assistant principal about the inclusion of gender-
nonconforming students in the district. On the subject of effort to create an accepting environment, she specified some of the programs and groups the school has, such as PRIDE Day and Diversity Club.

“Each semester, we’re required to have at least one anti-bullying program,” Merz says. “Anything we can do to help support community at every level in our school is so important.”

A visible issue in Talawanda when it comes to gender acceptance is lack of willingness to get to know students in minority positions.

“We can always get better, like looking for similarities between ourselves,” Merz says. “And of course, getting to know students is an overarching theme, for students and teachers.”