The issue of LGBT student rights electrifies American schools

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Usually banal, meetings of school boards in American schools have given rise for several months to virulent exchanges on issues relating to the freedoms of transgender students and LGBT people in general. Banning Books About Gender and Sexuality, Asking Teachers to Call Students by Their Legal Names: Some school districts have approved policies that pose “extremely high levels of risk” for transgender students, according to our Observer.

The scene takes place on November 8, in a school in Conway, Arkansas: students have organized a strike to protest against a set of decisions targeting transgender students. Two weeks earlier, the Conway School Board decided to regulate toilet use based on the gender assigned to students at birth. For the American Civil Liberties Union, this measure could “stigmatize” students and violate federal laws aimed at protecting transgender students in schools.

On the same day, three people were arrested while protesting against a school board meeting devoted to these subjects. Slogans “Trans lives matter” (“trans lives matter”, adapted from the slogan “Black lives matter”) were chanted outside the meeting before these arrests.

Another video, shared on October 12, shows the school board meeting where officials approved the new measures. One of the speakers declares that LGBTQ people “deserve death”.

A video posted on Twitter on October 12 captured the harsh rhetoric about LGBTQ people at a school board meeting in Conway, Arkansas.

The school board is a local, elected body that determines the policies of public establishments for a city or a county as the case may be. Across the United States, school board meetings have become platforms for discussing LGBTQ issues, where policies are proposed to ban LGBTQ content in schools and regulate how teachers deal with LGBTQ content. students’ gender identity.

Some debates have degenerated. School officials said they had received death threats, while people were arrested for assault and disturbing public order at meetings.

During the mid-term elections of November 8, the elected councils in at least 24 states were to be renewed, on the sidelines of other ballots including that aimed at renewing the House of Representatives. LGBTQ issues were at the center of these electionswith on one side a record number of LGBTQ candidates, and on the other, conservative candidates who support anti-LGBTQ policies.

“This is a central issue in school boards across the country”

Erin Reed is a researcher who tracks anti-trans politics in the United States.

I’ve followed school board hearings across the country where anti-trans policies have emerged, and where these issues have become extremely contentious between groups at Moms For Liberty (a conservative organization that advocates for “parental rights ” in schools and who in the past has campaigned against books and school curricula that mention LGBT issues, editor’s note) and parent groups that support LGBT people. This issue has been at the center of debate in school boards across the country.

In September, parents from Connecticut complained about a worksheet handed out in a class that included terms like “transgender”, “white privilege” and “indigenous peoples”.

A photo shared on Twitter on September 10 shows the controversial worksheet that parents protested at a Connecticut school board meeting.

At a school board meeting in Pennsylvania on Oct. 25, it’s the question of whether a school should be required to notify parents if their child asks to be called by specific pronouns at school, which crystallized the tensions.

Already in June 2021, a meeting of the Loudoun County, Va., school board convened to discuss policies to ensure transgender students are “treated with dignity and respect,” had turned into chaos. Participants had been arrested.

This series of videos posted on June 23, 2021 shows police arresting people during a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia.

The controversy in Loudoun County has left its mark: lschool board election in a county district opposed on November 8 in particular an openly gay candidate and a candidate who wants to ban books with LGBTQ content, who was elected. The other county district, on the other hand, has elected a candidate favorable to the protection of transgender students.

“There has been an increase in rules requiring teachers to call parents if they suspect a student is transgender”

Erin Reed explains the major anti-transgender policies offered in school districts:

Major policies we see in schools require teachers to misname their transgender students: they must use a student’s legal name, even in everyday conversation if the student wishes to use another name. We also find that many policies prohibit transgender students from accessing restrooms that match their gender identity. Many transgender students are “stealth”, meaning that no one knows they are transgender, and these policies also aim to exclude them.

We are also seeing an increase in policies to ban books about transgender and LGBTQ issues. Finally, there is an upsurge in policies requiring teachers to call parents if they suspect a student of being transgender – which can be particularly damaging in places where being transgender is not accepted. , putting these students at risk of domestic violence. These policies expose transgender students to extremely high levels of risk.

Other proposed policies in schools prohibit transgender students to do sport or limit open discussions about gender and sexuality in schools.

A video shared on Twitter on August 26, 2022 shows students from Grapevine High School in Texas staging a walkout to protest policies that discriminate against transgender students.

However, studies show that policies of this type have significant effects on young LGBTQ people, particularly their mental health. A survey conducted in 2022 by The Trevor Project on the prevention of suicide among LGBTQ youth estimated that the support of family and friends significantly reduces the suicide rate among LGBTQ youth. “Sense of belonging at school” is also considered one of the main factors that may reduce the risk of suicide among transgender young people in a 2022 study.

The fact that transgender students are forced to use restrooms or changing rooms that do not match their gender identity can put them at risk of sexual assault and contribute to making them feel insecure. At least 75% of transgender students say they don’t feel safe at school, and 50% say they can’t use the name and pronouns they feel comfortable with, according to a 2015 survey.

“There are signs that focusing on transgender students is not a 100% winning issue for the right”

Erin Reed nevertheless believes that the situation has rather improved for transgender students after the November 8 midterm elections. Many conservative candidates, presented by anti-transgender formations, were not elected. But the risks of discrimination still exist.

Across the country, school board elections have seen anti-transgender candidates defeated. It wasn’t a tidal wave, but there are signs that focusing on transgender students isn’t a 100% winning bet for the right. Many school districts are better off today than they were yesterday. Wake County [Caroline du Nord] elected seven out of nine Democrats, for example. A prominent anti-transgender candidate lost in Arlington, Virginia, and in Lafayette, Indiana, none of the anti-transgender candidates won.

But in Florida, Texas, Tennessee or Ohio, the situation is more at risk. In these states, forcible exclusion of trans students, policies to bar them from chosen restrooms, misname them, or assign them the wrong gender will likely continue to be enforced.

In the midterm elections, 270 candidates were supported by Moms for Liberty. About half of them were elected. Federal Civil Rights Law prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender in US public schools. The US Department of Education has confirmed that this legislation includes the rights of transgender students to be called by the name and pronoun of their choice, as well as the right to privacy regarding their gender identity.

The issue of LGBT student rights electrifies American schools