“I knew at a very young age that I was actually a woman.”
Those are the words of Amy Hunter. She is the Transgender Advocacy Project coordinator for the ACLU of Michigan ,and her story is one of the many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community that she represents.
“Because there was so little information about gender identity and what it meant to be transgender when I was a kid, I didn’t have the opportunity to transition at an early age, when I really knew already that I was different, so to speak,” Hunter said on Stateside. “Had I had the opportunity to transition at a very young age, I think I would have escaped some of the pitfalls that come with having such a deep, internal conflict.”
Those pitfalls can include drugs, alcohol, depression and even suicide. Hunter’s story is all too common for members of the transgender community, and she hopes that the optional guidelines proposed by the Michigan State Board of Education will go a long way toward helping LGBTQ students.
Here’s a sampling of what the board is suggesting schools do to create a safer space for transgender students:
- Call kids by their chosen names, and use the corresponding pronoun
- Don’t force trans students to use locker rooms that don’t fit their gender identity
- Let the student decide if they want tell the school to inform their parents about the student identifying as trans, or gender non-conforming, at school
- Any kid who wants to use “an all-gender or single user restroom (e.g., staff bathroom or nurse’s office),” should be able to, but that shouldn’t be presented as the only option for trans kids
- Students should be allowed to play sports on the team that corresponds with their gender identity
“From my perspective, these guidelines are great,” said Hunter. “They provide a way that all students can feel comfortable and safe and have an enriching and affirming educational experience.”
The Board posted the guidelines online and is expected to vote on them in May, after a period of public comment. So far, the number of public comments has reached more than 5,000 and there is more than a month remaining until the deadline.
Many of the comments that have been posted come from parents who feel that the rights of their straight children would be infringed upon by these guidelines.
“That’s kind of a misnomer to think that the broader population’s rights will be infringed upon somehow,” said Hunter. “These trans kids really will just fit right in with the other kids. And we know that, largely, younger kids have absolutely no issue with this at all.”
Another issue about the guidelines that have received a lot of attention is the provision that could exclude parents from the decision-making process as far as how the child is to be identified at school. Hunter said that while, in an ideal world, a transitioning child would have a supportive household where the parents would play a positive role, that's not every child's experience.
“If the kid is likely to encounter great resistance from the family … then I think that the right to privacy for that kid probably trumps having to disclose the kid’s wishes to transition at school,” said Hunter.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is expected to introduce a bill that would require Michigan students to “only use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their birth” sex, unless they have “written consent from a parent or guardian.” Casperson told Stateside that if there was an issue of parental abuse directed at a transitioning child, then it should be a matter for the courts to work out.
Hunter believes that putting the issue in the hands of the courts would compound an already difficult situation.
“To bring it into a legal arena where the kid is then put in a tug of war between what they know is right for themselves and what the parents may or may not wish for that child becomes one that does further damage to that kid’s ability to function ... emotionally and spiritually and psychologically.”
With the more than 5,000 public comments being posted and countless others on social media, Hunter wants to make sure that everyone in this debate listens to each other and keeps the right perspective.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s not … make this an adversarial, and particularly, not a political issue,” said Hunter. “These are kids’ lives whom we have a chance to help them become vibrant, authentic, contributing, healthy kids and we can only do that by all working together. Let’s have a real conversation about this. Let’s talk about this. Let’s exchange our thoughts, our views, but most of all, let’s make sure we’re all well-educated around all of the issues here. Particularly around what is best for the transgender child.”
Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the variety of resources that are available for people to seek help with transitioning children or just to become more educated on LGBTQ issues. You can also listen to Sen. Casperson's interview here.