I had the opportunity last week to speak briefly, on television, about inclusion of LGBTQ students, particularly focusing on transgender students. This comes in the context of a draft guidance from our state Board of Education, and I want to share more detailed thoughts on that topic.
Below is the text of my public comment on the Michigan Board of Education’s Draft Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students (you can read the guidance here). Public comments are being accepted through May 11, 2016, and if you have something to say, I strongly encourage you to speak. You can make your comment and read comments here.
Dear esteemed members of the Michigan Board of Education,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment publicly on your draft Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students.
I bring two perspectives. First, I am a neuropsychologist and have dedicated my career to empowering at risk youth, including advocating alongside and on behalf of youth in the welfare system, traumatized youth, and neurologically different youth. From this perspective, I firmly embrace and recognize your important point that Michigan will not be a leader state in education as long as the message is sent that, in school, “open season” is observed on some groups of at-risk children. Your guidance sends a clear message that LGBTQ students matter, and that they are worthy of respect and dignity in Michigan schools.
Second, I am a transgender woman. I did not come out when I was in school – in fact I came out just about two years ago. Like many young people who are increasingly being open about their gender and sexual identities, part of my reasoning in coming out was that, by owning my whole identity, I could be more authentic. This has helped me be a better fiancée to my fiancé, a better neighbor, a better psychologist, and a better community member, because I bring my whole self to my work, advocacy, and play. But importantly, like many young people coming out, a very important second reason is that I wanted to use my visibility and privilege to, in taking a public stance and being “out,” help make the world a safer place for at risk youth. My childhood was significantly affected by in school bullying and victimization. I was able to receive support and rise beyond this. However, for many vulnerable students, this cycle leads to increased days of school missed because they do not feel safe in school, poor academic performance, dropping out, and getting caught up in pipelines that lead to negative outcomes in young adulthood.
I have had the opportunity to integrate my two perspectives. Here in Michigan, I serve as a board member of Equality Michigan. Nationally, I have been involved in policy development for serving LGBTQ youth at the Association of Children’s Residential Centers, where I am a board advisor, and I am also co-chair of the Committee for Transgender People and Gender Diversity at the American Psychological Association. In these settings, I have had the opportunity to review many model policies and guidances from schools and governing bodies, and this gives me confidence in saying that the guidance you are proposing is very consistent with national and international best practice in serving LGBTQ youth.
I hope I don’t need to tell you what I suspect, from these excellent guidelines, you already know. There is simply no evidence, from the many, many schools that already implement policies that are informed by guidance like yours, that this policy creates room for new victimization. Indeed, it merely acts to eliminate victimization already happening. We know this not just from outside of Michigan, but from many Michigan school districts that quietly, in service of creating schools where all Michigan kids belong, have already implemented policies that significantly mirror your guidance. Nor, of course, do guidances like yours create a situation in which LGBTQ students receive preferential treatment – indeed, we as LGBTQ Michiganders just want to be treated like anyone else.
In summary, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and recognize you for setting forth a high quality guidance that brings international best practice to Michigan, and which will help Michigan schools in their path towards being consistently the best in the world, for all kinds of children, which is precisely what all Michigan children deserve.