Building Safer Spaces For Our Transgender Youth

by Vivian Taylor

When I was in high school in rural North Carolina, I wasn’t very out. It was the early days of what you might call online social connection. I set up dummy email addresses to create secret identities on usenet forums where I tried to figure out what it meant to be transgender. I had friends I’d never met who I came out to over AOL Instant Messenger.

I was looking for people to know, to understand, but I was afraid to do it in my own hometown.

Though I am no longer a high school teenager looking for a safe space to come out to, I am reminded of how the days of high school can affect a young person.

Today, in 2014, the big news in transgender student rights work in the last few weeks is that the referendum on AB 1266 is slowly moving forward in California.

AB 1266 is the California bill that ensures transgender students complete access to all that the state’s public schools offer.

This wonderful bill provides full access to education for all transgender students.

The experience of having a transgender young person’s gender identity so respected at an early age is invaluable to putting them on a trajectory toward a happy, healthy, successful life.

The referendum on this bill is being pushed by a coalition of conservative groups known as Privacy for All Students (PFAS), an ironic name given their obsession with the reproductive organs of a small minority of California children.

It is still unclear whether or not the referendum to repeal AB 1266 will actually go forward.

PFAS had until a deadline in the Fall to collect the signatures and submit them to the various counties’ boards of election. Those signatures were first verified by a random sampling.

Even though PFAS collected more signatures than they needed, election officials discovered many double signatures in the random sampling.

There were not enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot just from the random sampling, so election officials are moving to check all several hundred thousand signatures. Based on that count, we should know whether or not the referendum will be on the ballot next November 4.

Civil liberties organizations from across the country are gearing up to do the work of defeating the repeal if it does go forward.

“So,” I hear you asking, “what can I do? I live in Ohio or North Carolina or Texas. I’m across the continent from California.”

Well dear reader, don’t worry.

The thing about these moments of change, these moments of conversation, is that they often come with a backlash.

I can not predict every form that this backlash against transgender people will take, but it is possible that if the referendum goes forward, that if there is a strong national conversation about transgender people, that we will see intense episodes of bias and violence against transgender people across the country.

Now is the time to educate yourself on transgender issues, to begin working in your congregation or spiritual home to make it an accepting, loving, safe sanctuary for transgender people in your wider community.

Now is the time to start having conversations about whether or not your parish is a welcoming place to transgender people. If there is work to do, consider holding a Trans 101 training. These trainings can be deeply useful in giving your congregation the basic language to discuss and understand transgender folks.

If your parish building has single stall bathrooms, consider making them gender neutral.

Not only will you be making your church home a safe place for transgender folks, you’ll also give all new comers the added convenience of not needing to search around the building to find a place to use the facilities.

The most important thing that your congregation can do is to be loudly public about your love of transgender people and the importance of protecting transgender people’s rights, to loudly proclaim that following the Gospel of Jesus Christ means accepting and loving transgender people.

All too often transgender people are framed as being somehow immoral or sinful, and the work of protecting transgender people’s right is all too often framed as somehow being work against Christianity.

That is, of course, ridiculous.

Certainly not all, but many transgender people come to see the importance of their gender identity in their teens. By taking these simple steps, by working to make schools, churches, communities safe, loving places for transgender young folks, you can give transgender teens the chance I never had to know and be known, to explore what it means to be who they are, to know they are loved children of God.

Photo via flickr user KindredCoda