New Virginia “bathroom bill” is dangerous to transgender youth
This week, Del. Bob Marshall introduced legislation which many may know of as “the bathroom bill.” The legislation would prohibit anyone using bathrooms, locker rooms or other facilities designated by sex if they are the opposite sex.
This legislation is similar to the “HB2” law passed in North Carolina just last year. Marshall’s version, HB1612, includes language requiring a principal to notify parents or guardians of children that request to be recognized or treated as the opposite sex, to use a name or pronoun inconsistent with the child’s sex, or to use a restroom or other facility designated for the opposite sex.
HB1612 is harmful legislation that endangers our transgender community, especially youth attending Virginia public schools.
At Side by Side, we regularly work with transgender and gender non-conforming youth who are in the process of coming out. Coming out to the world and, more specifically, to parents and family is a complex, often difficult, and extremely personal process.
Coming out as transgender means sharing a gender identity that is different from the one assigned at birth. For many transgender youth, this process is unfortunately met with confusion, anxiety, and sometimes even violence.
The recent 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, noted that one in ten transgender people who were out to their family reported that a family member had been violent towards them. Another one in twelve transgender people reported being kicked out of the house when they came out.
Side by Side works to create supportive and affirming spaces where youth can explore questions about their gender identity free of judgement and harassment. For over 25 years, we’ve seen youth struggle to come out to their parents and family and we’ve also worked with parents and families who are, in turn, struggling to support their LGBTQ+ children.
Family acceptance is the most important factor in ensuring LGBTQ+ youth are safe. Research shows that family acceptance can dramatically lower LGBTQ+ youth’s risk for suicide and risky behavior. In fact, a 2009 study by The Family Acceptance Project published in Pediatrics magazine noted that “young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide compared with peers from families that reported no to low levels of family rejection.”
The idea of “outing,” or disclosing a transgender youth’s identity to their parents without the youth’s permission could potentially have disastrous results. The latest legislation proposed by Del. Bob Marshall, HB1612 – Physical Privacy Act aka “the bathroom bill,” does just that.
First, it denies transgender youth their right to come out to their parents on their own terms. For youth to fully grow into their authentic selves, they need to have the ability to govern how and when they take certain milestone steps. Second, it denies teachers, counselors, and principals the ability to foster trust with their students and work with them to create supportive and affirming space within their schools.
Forcing principals to disclose a transgender student’s gender identity potentially opens the student up to an array of reactions from loved ones that they may be unprepared to face.
Instead of requiring parental notification, school officials could support the transgender youth as they determine the best time and way to come out to their parents and family. Schools could provide education and resources (such as Side by Side, PFLAG, as well as He, She, Ze, & We) to support the transgender youth and their parents and families as well.
Allowing youth to set the timetable, and to develop skills for coming out, allows youth to fully prepare sharing this personal information with their parents and family.
In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students which highlights policies from around the country. The section regarding disclosure of gender identity, name, and pronoun specifically shares examples of positive policies that protect students’ identity even from parents and family.
The proposed legislation in HB1612 does not protect transgender students or their family. Instead it will cause serious harm. We at Side by Side, recognize that parents play an important role in their children’s identity development, and we also recognize that youth need the space and autonomy to find out who they are. We join our partners at EqualityVA in urging those supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ youth in particular to call your state representative and share the dangers of this bill for our community.
Ted Lewis is the Executive Director of Side By Side, an LGBTQ+ group that aims to create supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong, and flourish.
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