On the Transgender Policy

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On the Transgender Policy

Photo by Olivia Bulzomi

Photo by Olivia Bulzomi

Photo by Olivia Bulzomi

Photo by Olivia Bulzomi

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Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion-editorial. For information on our unsigned editorial policy, see our Policies page.

 

The recent Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education meetings brought large crowds to Pascack Valley High School both in favor of and opposition of Policy 5756 – the transgender policy. Many in opposition of the transgender policy, in order to prevent it from being passed by the PVRHSD BOE, use hate speech, transphobia and religion as justifications for their opposition. Hills and its administration have always committed themselves to creating an environment of comfort, safety and success for their students. To be in opposition of the policy is not only to be opposed to the virtues of human rights, but to be against the values of the district.

 

According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of…expression,” meaning that transgender students have the ability to express themselves however they desire. This right should not be suppressed, preventing them from asserting who they really are. The power of acceptance cannot be underestimated. For those who have felt ostracized their whole lives, knowing that their school acknowledges their authentic self holds immense weight. Those who continue to ignore the identity and struggle of those who are transgender are only adding to the discomfort and unease they feel. According to Time, “Nearly 80 percent of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young,” a number that could be greatly diminished with the imposition of policies like the one passed by the PVRHSD BOE.

 

Pascack Hills senior Jamie Spelling professed that the policy “mimics the idea that high school is supposed to be a place where people can feel safe and act as they please.”

 

Many transgender students come from homes that are not supportive of who they are, so school is the only place they can truly be themselves. While the argument of parental rights is certainly a valid one, especially from supportive parents, it cannot be ignored that there are parents that cause their children immense emotional (and sometimes, even physical) harm by not accepting who they want to be.

 

Take Leelah Alcorn, for example. Alcorn was a trans girl from Ohio whose identity was not supported by her parents for religious reasons. Instead of allowing Alcorn to undergo transition treatment, typically consisting of hormone treatment with sex reassignment surgery later, her parents forced her to a conservative Christian conversion therapy. Parents typically send their children to such therapies with the hope that spiritual interventions, counseling, psychoanalytic therapy, and the like, will cure them of their transness or homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association condemns conversion therapy and psychiatric treatment “based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the prior assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.” When Alcorn expressed to her peers that she was attracted to males, her parents forbade her from using social media. She committed suicide shortly after, writing, “The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender…After 10 years of confusion, I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.” Her suicide note was queued to post on Tumblr after she had died.

 

Alcorn also stated in her note, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was. They’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”

 

Religion is to be respected under the First Amendment, but when religious jargon turns into hate speech, there is a problem. Marc A. Stutzel, a pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Woodcliff Lake, stated at the First Reading of the transgender policy that, “Not everyone in our denomination is of one mind when it comes to gender-identity issues. However, the Christian witness is larger than any single voice or view. Jesus didn’t call his disciples to agree with each other. Instead, Jesus called us to love one another – and to express his love, welcome, and protection to everyone we meet.” Opposers often use antiquated citations that also condemn the acts of trimming one’s beard, or planting more than one kind of seed in a field, but fail to acknowledge the overwhelming amount of quotes on acceptance and love.

 

Instead of stating “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5), which openly condemns the very popular practice of women wearing pants and doesn’t directly address the modern argument of those who are transgender, perhaps those in religious opposition should instead take the words of Jesus himself to heart: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

 

Or, if they’re still not convinced, the words of God himself: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

 

According to Dr. Dwight Panozzo, a psychotherapist and social worker, most of the objection of this policy comes from a place of fear. In his speech to the BOE, Panozzo said, “Where is the epidemic of crimes related to trans women using the women’s room or cisgendered people being traumatized by catching sight of unanticipated genitalia? Those things simply don’t exist, and that means that some of us are paranoid on this issue.”

 

Instead of attacks by trans people in public restrooms, instead, there tend to be attacks on trans people. In a study on the transgender population in Washington DC by The Williams Institute and the UCLA School of Law published in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, it states that “70 percent [of the respondents] reported experiencing one or more of these problems (‘denial of access to facilities, verbal harassment, and physical assault’).” As a result, many transgender people avoid going out altogether so they won’t have to risk using public restrooms, or instead, they don’t go to the bathroom at all, resulting in various medical consequences.

 

The study also reported, “Health problems that respondents reported due to avoiding using public bathrooms include: dehydration, urinary tract infections, kidney infection, and other kidney-related problems. Six percent of respondents have seen a doctor for health problems caused by avoiding public restrooms.”

 

While the PVRHSD and Pascack Hills have not had to deal with such drastic consequences as these, the absence of a transgender policy puts the district at extreme legal risk. Because the policy outlines the rights of transgender students for the administration, faculty, and students, it ensures that no rights are infringed upon. Without the policy, there is the possibility that a trans student who was denied the opportunity to use the facility they wished to use could sue the district. There are various anti-discriminatory laws put in place that outline the rights of transgender people. As outlined in the agenda given out at the Transgender Policy Information Session on March 29, the rights are as follows:

 

  • The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance recognizing that Title IX protects transgender students against discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) prohibits, amongst other things, discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression. The LAD specifically prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, and mandates that in sex-segregated public accommodations, such as bathrooms or locker rooms, a person must be allowed to use the facility consistent with their gender identity or expression. The LAD defines public schools as places of public accommodation covered under the law.
  • The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act in New JErsey sets forth provisions regarding awareness and prevention of Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying in schools, includes protection on the basis of gender identity and expression.
  • The First Amendment to the United States Constitution has been construed to protect gender expression on the basis of “freedom of expression.”

 

While the rights of students who are uncomfortable changing in front of someone of the opposite biological sex are valid, the right to comfort is not outlined in the law. However, the right for trans students to change where they are comfortable is. PVRHSD Superintendent Erik Gundersen expressed numerous times that arrangements can be made for those who aren’t comfortable changing around trans students, just as arrangements are currently made for students who are already uncomfortable in the locker rooms for various reasons.

 

Cisgendered people (those who identify as the same sex they were born with) can never imagine how it feels to be out of place in their body. It’s up to them to be advocates for transgendered people, supporting and respecting their chosen gender and pronouns. In passing this policy, the PVRHSD publicly expressed its dedication to ensuring the safe education and protection of all its students.

 

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