Small Towns Take Big Stand for Transgender Youth

by Guest Contributors

The school board in the small town of Grass Lake, Michigan recently decided to allow transgender children to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Post submitted by Peter and Sarah Tchoryk

Terri and Jaimie are moms who live in Grass Lake, Michigan. When you live in a town as small as Grass Lake, everybody knows your name. It’s what makes towns like Grass Lake the kind of place you’d want to raise a family.

Grass Lake is also more diverse than anyone thought. Terri and Jaimie are both moms to young transgender kids. What makes Grass Lake exceptional is that its school board recently decided to allow transgender children to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

What always strikes me about school board meetings like the one recently held in Grass Lake is the passion of the community – and how our goals are the same. We all want our children to grow up in a world where they can learn and live peacefully and productively.

What also strikes me is the level of uncertainty some people have over what will happen if schools are inclusive toward transgender kids. It underscores the importance of guidance and education not only in our schools, but also in our communities.

The truth is we don’t have to guess what will happen. We have evidence that when you create a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ children, you make the school safer and more welcoming for every child. Kids who are safe and supported also perform better. And when we educate kids about LGBTQ people and other differences, every child benefits – because every child is different in some way and needs to know they are valued.

We know that the American Academy of Pediatrics and every major medical and mental health organization recognize that affirming a child’s gender identity is critical to their wellbeing. Pediatricians also recognize that not affirming LGBTQ kids puts them at great risk – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We also know that allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms matching their identity will not make bathrooms unsafe for others – the fears are simply unfounded. There is much evidence debunking these bathroom myths. Schools across the country have already successfully managed privacy for all students while allowing transgender children to use the facilities matching their gender identity.

And there has been no surge in assaults in the over 200 cities and 19 states that have laws allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms matching their identity. People don’t often stop to realize that transgender kids have been around as long as everyone else – they have just been forced to keep hidden. They have been using the bathrooms, facilities, and public spaces for years.

In spite of the evidence, the debunking of irrational fears, and the real experiences of millions of people, we continue to see the dehumanization of the transgender community at the highest levels of government. The resulting fear and uncertainty can cause otherwise caring people to ignore the evidence and pointlessly endanger the lives of our children.

Segregating transgender kids does not provide them with a safe or supportive environment – it does just the opposite. It endangers and dehumanizes them, putting a target on their backs for bullying and harassment.

Our schools have always been on the front lines of justice, from desegregation in the South, to the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, and now recognizing the rights of transgender kids. Some things haven’t changed. Safety and privacy were used to justify discrimination in the past and those arguments are being used today against our transgender kids. And too often we hear that providing basic human rights of a minority will be an inconvenience – a burden – to the majority. We’ve been here before.

This is what makes our public schools unique and so valuable. Their mission is to ensure every single child has a safe and supportive learning environment – and in the process, teach kids how we can all live together peacefully and productively.

My wife and I live in a small town, too. Dexter, Michigan is not unlike Grass Lake. We are fortunate that our schools embrace all kids – even the most marginalized. Our son is able to use the bathroom matching his gender identity.

Our schools provide for the safety and privacy of every child, no matter who they are. Our schools provide training to staff on diversity and inclusion and educate students on diversity,  including the reality of transgender lives. Our schools see the value in every child – even those on the margins. The tragedy is that not every child is this fortunate.

We must work with a fierce urgency to ensure all children have safe and supportive learning environments. The future of our world depends on it. And it always starts with education.

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk are on the HRC Parents for Transgender Equality Council and strive to create a world where every child can live peacefully and productively. Peter is the CEO of Michigan Aerospace and Springmatter and Sarah is a 5th grade teacher. They have three wonderful kids and three grandkids.