The “transgender issue a non-issue in area schools” is anything but a non-issue. While it is certainly encouraging to read the various responses from key Columbia County school district administrators on the subject of equitable access to facilities for transgender and gender non-conforming students, it is sadly untrue and misleading. It is also important to realize that this discussion and issue is most certainly not just about bathrooms and locker rooms. This goes far beyond that.
It is this systemic disconnect between what is presumed to be compliance with state and federal mandated policies and the reality of life as a vulnerable, bullied, and unsupported LGBT student.
As advocates for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in Columbia County, the Hudson Pride Foundation (HPF) has met with continued inaction and disinterest by many of the school districts when it comes to implementing required policies and procedures as it relates to the “Dignity for All Students Act” and The State Education Department’s “Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment For Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” released July 2015. The new Federal guidelines regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools do indeed mirror those already in place in New York State public schools, however, we can point to several instances where we have been approached by students who are still today mercilessly bullied by fellow students for being LGBT or having LGBT parents, while teachers and administrators turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the ongoing discrimination and abuse.
It is disturbing to read these cavalier declarations of delusion as various area schools claim that everything is great, all policies are in place and all teachers and administrators have been trained. Many schools in Columbia County are not, as the article might lead one to believe, safe and nurturing places for each and every student. It is this systemic disconnect between what is presumed to be compliance with state and federal mandated policies and the reality of life as a vulnerable, bullied, and unsupported LGBT student.
Chatham Central School District Superintendent’s statement that “we have a priority in Chatham that no student feels excluded” is in direct contradiction to the reality that several LGBT and gender non-conforming students in Chatham High School have historically faced. Students have been denied inclusion, denied a safe, non-hostile environment, denied the right to form a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and have been faced with harassment by fellow students and, in at least two known cases, by school administrators.
In the Hudson City School District, we know that the middle and high schools are not safe spaces for students. We know there is continued and systematic bullying and harassment of students known or perceived to be LGBT or gender non-conforming. Some Hudson high school students have sought refuge in the very bathrooms in question so that they can eat lunch without harassment from students in the cafeteria.
Teachers, administrators, parents and each and every student must commit to an open and on-going dialogue regarding the urgent need to create safe bully-free learning spaces for ALL students. Curriculums need to be updated to include education regarding LGBT issues. Ongoing faculty and administrative staff training must be a cornerstone of every school in every school district. This includes all schools – elementary, middle schools, and high schools.
"I think that it is part of our obligation as a society to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and our kids are all loved, and that they’re protected and that their dignity is affirmed."
-President Obama, New York Times, 5/16/16
Some day, the transgender issue will be a “non-issue”, but that day has not yet arrived in Columbia County.