RVA Town Hall supporting trans youth draws tears ahead of blow to Grimm case
Less than 24 hours before Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit against his school board was dealt a drastic blow, Richmond area trans folks, their families and friends gathered at Diversity Richmond to offer support to some of the region’s most vulnerable students.
Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board for violations of Title IX has been widely publicized for the last couple of years. The 17 year old transgender student fighting against the school’s anti-trans bathroom policy – a policy that says students must use the bathroom that aligns with their birth certificate gender marker – has spurred a wider conversation about what the public school civil rights law, Title IX, really means.
Moreover, it’s made many members of the community concerned, confused, and often in need of reassurance about what’s to happen in the next few years at the federal level and down into their own communities.
Trump’s recent withdrawal of federal support of the transgender bathroom use in schools has further complicated the matter. Sunday’s event, a town hall-style gathering, featured local non-profits hoping to provide answers as they sought to explore these concerns about Title IX and to reassure trans youth and their families in response to the Grimm case.
The concern and desire for understanding was exemplified by the attendance of about 50 to 100 individuals.
Representatives from local nonprofits Side by Side and Equality Virginia were in attendance, as well as an attorney on the Grimm case from the ACLU of Virginia. Over the course of two hours, they discussed how policy developments have changed and what that means for trans kids in RVA and beyond.
Two transgender youths from Side by Side, Braden and Jay*, were also on the panel to give insight to their experiences both in the public education system and as young transgender individuals in 2017.
Gail Deady, the Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow of the ACLU of Virginia and attorney for the Grimm case, clarified for the crowd the technical aspects of Title IX policy and interpretation.
Back in 2014, the Department of Education, under the Obama Administration, issued guidance in 2016 that provided comprehensive guidelines instructing schools to allow transgender students to use sex-segregated facilities how they wish. According to Deady, Trump’s withdrawal of these guidelines without replacement has left us with an unclear picture of what form policy is to take in the future.
Other panelists spoke to the ways the state and federal policy have shaped experiences at the individual and local levels – and that the fight isn’t close to being over.
Virginia Lamneck, Deputy Director of Equality Virginia, underscored the importance of understanding transgender protections are still in place.
“What’s unfortunate about this rescission (of policy) is that it sends a message to transgender students that the administration doesn’t respect them, does not have their backs,” said Lamneck. ”So it’s important to remember… schools that have policies in place to respect their students can and should still protect their students.”
Technical policy issues and discourse aside, the panelists and attendees tried their best to remain hopeful and see the silver linings of these otherwise disappointing turns our nation has taken.
The town hall naturally took an emotional turn after the panelists started accepting questions from the crowd.
Panelists fielded questions from family of LGBTQ folks seeking guidance for how to best support them. Other LGBTQ youth asked what they could do to make their schools a safer and more inclusive space for themselves and their peers. Non-binary, gender non-conforming, and disabled folks also brought to our attention how the LGBTQ community itself could be more inclusive.
Ted Lewis, Executive Director of Side by Side (formerly known as ROSMY), noted that for the first time, a majority of the youth that now seek guidance and resources from them identify as transgender. And in the last couple of months, Side by Side has seen a significant increase of youths in crisis – that’s to say, there’s been an increase in youths that are “experiencing acute suicidality and are looking for information on resiliency.”
After an individual from the crowd turned the conversation to topics such as resiliency and envisioning a future for trans youth – and what supporting trans youth looks like – the students on the panel felt they could best answer by bravely sharing their personal experiences.
In an important and raw moment, Jay explained that he once didn’t envision a future at all for himself. He didn’t feel that he’d even make it to graduation, an event set to happen in a few months. As his voice began to break, my eyes welled up. The room became acutely aware of how painful his experience had, at times, been.
With the Grimm case sent back to the lower courts, the future of legal support for trans kids is in a kind of limbo, but Sunday’s meeting may have calmed some fears – or hopefully inspired school districts to recognize those fears in the future.
It’s that time of year again, when students of all ages nervously ask their crushes or significant others if they will accompany them to their local spring dances or proms. And Side by Side, formerly ROSMY, has just the event for LGBTQ youth who often seek spaces that are uniquely theirs. Side by Side is [...]May 17, 2017
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