Millions of educators take a stand for transgender students in advance of historic Supreme Court decision

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Virginia student Gavin Grimm at transgender rights rally.

By Sabrina Holcomb

UPDATE: Since this story posted, the Supreme Court has returned the Gavin Grimm case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. While disappointed over this this decision, NEA and supporters are confident the lower court will vindicate the rights of transgender students. Read NEA’s full statement.

 

The National Education Association, and a coalition of organizations representing millions of education professionals, filed a friend of the court brief yesterday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the rights of Virginia student Gavin Grimm and other transgender students across the country.

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The filing of the brief, which argues that school-based discrimination harms transgender students and the educators who are “above all, advocates and protectors of their students,” comes a week after the White House’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s federal guidance to schools clarifying protections for transgender students.

Alarmed by this backwards movement, a surprisingly diverse group of supporters are fighting back on multiple fronts—from signing on to “friend of the court” briefs to releasing public statements in support of gender-inclusive policies.

“Don’t forget that parents and educators had asked for federal guidance from the Department of Education,” explains Ellen Kahn, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Children, Youth, and Families Program. “Hours after it was rescinded, departments of education and school districts in red and blue states reaffirmed their commitment to gender-inclusive policies.”

One of those districts is Montgomery County, Maryland, where 13-year-old Siddy Greenstein attends North Bethesda Middle School.

Siddy, one of the students interviewed for a friend of the court brief for the Gavin Grimm case, came out to his school this year when he stood in front of every one of his classes and told them simply, “Last year you knew me as a girl; this year I’m transitioning to a boy.”

“Expecting negative feedback, Siddy had been prepared to switch schools but was blown away when “100 percent of the students and school staff were supportive.”

That’s because district and school policies are supportive says Siddy’s school counselor Cindy Drucker, who calls the withdrawal of federal guidance unkind and unnecessary.

“This is a public school and everybody is welcome as they are,” insists Drucker. “The onus is on us to make any accommodations within our human power to help all of our students feel safe and happy.”

“We’re lucky to live in a supportive state and county,” acknowledges Julie Greenstein, Siddy’s mother. “But what about other kids like Gavin Grimm who are still fighting for their rights at school? What about transgender children suffering from anxiety and depression or contemplating suicide?”

As they await the outcome of Gloucester v. Gavin Grimm, many in the education community are asking what they can do to support transgender students who need their help right now.

“Train every adult in the building,” advises Drucker, who says North Bethesda has made a concerted effort to educate all staff—cafeteria workers, counselors, administrators, bus drivers, nurses, and classroom teachers—about what it means to be transgender. (Access NEA and partners’ Schools in Transition guide to learn how your school can support transgender students.)

“I understand everybody may not be on the same page in terms of their level of acceptance or religious beliefs, but we all knew we had to come together to support our students regardless of our personal beliefs,” says Drucker, who reached out to staff to talk to them about their levels of comfort and fear.

HRC’s Ellen Kahn, who is a Montgomery County parent, urges leaders at the district level to reach out to people in their sphere of influence and make a public statement of support. “It means the world to parents and students and helps to alleviate their fears in the face of attacks,” advises Kahn, who knows that for some students, acceptance is the difference between success or failure, life or death.

Siddy and his family agree, and when the Supreme Court starts hearing oral arguments in Gloucester v. Gavin Grimm on March 28, they’ll rally there with other families in a show of solidarity.

If he were arguing the case says Siddy, he’d want the Justices to know there’s no difference between a transgender teen and a non-transgender teen.

“I’d tell them, just take a step back and see clearly what a transgender person has to go through on a daily basis, and you’ll make the right decision.”

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