Towards a Stronger American Society
From the desk of Executive Director Tim Hathaway
Many folks are struggling with the rapidly changing face of American Society today, and in particular, the issue of sexual identity and diversity. There are many voices sharing a range of anxieties and fears about what might happen when perspectives of people who are transgender, gay, and non-binary enter our schools. So many in our country are trying to sort out these issues and it is hard work. And our State Education Department Board of Regents is also weighing in as noted in the TU article from earlier this week, “New York Doubling Down on Support for Transgender Students.”
Prevent Child Abuse New York is working to make this state the best place on earth to raise a kid. This issue is a test for American society and the future of New York’s children. Our definition of the Great American Society was never based on one particular theology or moral creed; it has always been based on the rights of individuals. This is the core issue of this discussion.
A couple thoughts to consider:
First, what happens when we deny the existence of a child. The science and experience is clear; this type of emotional abuse destroys the mental health of that child. We know that gay and transgender children are in our schools and our community. (Nationally, they represent 10% of our population; including 10% of taxpayers!) Pretending they are not there or making it harder for them to be there is to deny their humanity. There is nothing more damaging to a child than to make them “disappear” by denying their existence. Our Society cannot select that as a value.
Second, it is an obligation of schools to create a supportive learning environment for all children. Would we say a child with peanut allergies or autism or a different skin tone does not have a right to a supportive school learning environment? We know we wouldn’t! Doing so would mean my child or your child could be excluded for any old reason. Why would we ever suggest LGBTQ children should be esteemed in any other way than every other child?
Third, the fact is that not all families are safe families for children. Often, we think about kids that are sexually or physically abused as being in unsafe spaces. Families that reject children with intention, are not safe for kids either. They harm children’s growth in very real and tangible ways. NY citizens have already figured this out. Title IX protects all children in NY schools from harassment and, to this point, protects their bodily autonomy. For instance, if a 12-year-old young woman discloses to the school counselor that she is pregnant and identifies that she will be at threat from her family, the school does not disclose the pregnancy to her family. They are required to support the child’s safety in the learning environment. The idea of keeping a child safe from a threatening situation by not disclosing that child’s sexual or gender status requires the same discretion.
Healthy relationships with kids are achieved through good boundaries, respectful communication, awareness of others’ emotions, and individuals rights and responsibilities. 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with that ideology highest among transgender youth. It's about saving lives and honoring the existence of people that have always existed. Making that the standard for our schools will create a safe and protective environment for ALL students. I spoke with some high school students, some parents and my friend Nate Gray, Executive Director at the Pride Center of the Capital Region to help me think this all through. If you are trying to figure these issues out, I would invite you to listen and talk with people who are most impacted by this issue.
Our office, Prevent Child Abuse New York, wants every child to have a family experience and a school/community experience that builds a strong mind and a healthy body. That means their emotional and mental health matters a great deal. We can’t build a strong American Society if we deny the rights of certain individuals or pretend they are not relevant.