“Unsafe, Vulnerable, and Belittled”: The Legal Rights of Transgender Students

As a transgender male, I worry every day about losing my life because of being who I am, and some of my biggest worries have come from other students, and even some teachers, at my school.

Students don’t realize that when I walk the hallways I hear them whispering things like “Pinocchio” and “freak.” They think I don’t see their stares, but I do.

Some teachers purposefully do not use my pronouns (he, him, his) or my name, thus denying my existence, and making me feel ashamed. Although these things are hurtful, I haven’t experienced what a young student in Virginia went through which could have put her in danger.

On Oct. 3, a lockdown drill at Stafford County Middle School required students to seek shelter in the nearest bathroom or locker room. However, a transgender student was forced to sit in the gym by herself while the other students took shelter.

When news of this event hit social media, many were outraged.

“The student was forced to watch the adults charged with her care debate the safest place (for the other students) to have her shelter,” Equality Stafford wrote in a Facebook post.

“This shouldn’t have been an issue. She is a girl, so she should have gone into a girls’ locker room or bathroom,” said senior Michael Click, a Dunbar student who identifies as transgender. “In a state of real emergency, it wouldn’t have mattered unless the teachers are saying the [a transgender] student is more dangerous going into a girls’ locker room or bathroom than a possible shooter.”

Dunbar has several transgender students in the building, and although no one has been put in potential danger like the student at Stafford County Middle School, these students have found that there are roadblocks to adults understanding and upholding their civil rights. Part of the reason seems to be the mixing of personal beliefs with professional responsibilities.

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I’ve had people stare me down as I walked into the boys’ bathroom sometimes to the point where I turn around and I just don’t go.

— Aiiden Robinson

Dunbar English teacher Mrs. Brooke Jackson said, “Gender identity shouldn’t matter. Schools need to do better [as institutions] for transgender students because if left to individuals, politics will be involved and that could put children at risk.”

Her ideas should be the norm, but in reality, things like what happened to that student happen all the time.

On Aug. 15, Ms. Lenore Herrem, a Canadian transgender woman, was boarding a WestJet flight when she was questioned by an airline agent because she was confused that her identification card didn’t align with her appearance.

Ms. Herrem discreetly expressed that she is transgender. Because her ID matched the name on her boarding pass, another agent waved Ms. Herrem through and told her everything was fine.

After boarding, she was asked for her ID again. Then they “outed” Ms. Herrem in front of other passengers. Ms. Herrem said the experience made her feel “unsafe, vulnerable and belittled.” WestJet has apologized and is investigating the incident.

Her story makes me scared to travel because of the fear of not “passing.” And if adults are treated this way, imagine what it is like for teenagers.

“I believe the way she was treated was deliberate, and that after she explained herself the matter should’ve been let go,” said senior Danny Miller who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “But the workers went the extra distance to make her uncomfortable and that’s not okay.”

I’ve had people stare me down as I walked into the boys’ bathroom sometimes to the point where I turn around and I just don’t go.

Not only do transgender people experience discrimination, but they are also now facing what amounts to legal erasure.

On Oct. 21, the Trump administration pushed for a definition of the term sex as “a biological, immutable, condition, determined by genitalia at birth,” according to The New York Times. The transgender and non-binary communities immediately went into high alert.

Currently, the American Medical Association recognizes sex as based on bodily characteristics as well as socially constructed gender roles.

The Trump administration appears to be writing a federal guidance for sex-based discrimination, and if passed, gender-nonconforming and transgender people would no longer benefit from federal civil rights protections for their education, their access to healthcare, and their employment.

However, many courts have allowed the protections by prohibiting sex stereotyping, and the medical community has called for legal protection of those whose gender identity does not fit into the category of man or woman such as non-binary and transgender individuals.

If the President doesn’t care about transgender people and tries to erase us, then this reassures us that we have to hide and keep to ourselves. If the person who is in charge of the country can disrespect and invalidate us, then anyone can get away with it.

Trans people go through so many battles every day just to be themselves. In the end, we just want to be seen as the same, we want to be valid and heard amongst our peers. We don’t expect things to change overnight but, we want them to change over time. We want transgender people, in the future, to be able to say  “I’m Transgender” without fear of being persecuted. We want them to be able to live without worry.