March 26, 2013: A gay rights supporter waves a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court.Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images
When the Rev. David Weekley, a transgender clergy ordained in the United Methodist Church, attended school in the 1960s, he endured discrimination from peers, teachers and school administrators had on his mental and physical health. He told me this week:
Research conducted by Jody Herman of the Williams Institute at UCLA on gendered restrooms suggests that Weekley’s experiences may be common among transgender youth. “The top line finding on education is that 10 percent of transgender survey respondents who attended school in Washington, D.C., reported a negative impact on their education, including having excessive absences and dropping out of school due to issues related to restroom access.”
A new California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Monday ensures that students will not have to endure discrimination on the basis of their gender identity and expression. This law (Assembly Bill 1266) which goes into effect January 1, 2014, requires that California public schools respect students’ gender identity and makes sure that students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs and utilize facilities that match their gender identity.
As noted by the Transgender Law Center, “The new law builds on a national movement to end discriminatory practices and ensure transgender youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other students. Massachusetts and Colorado have statewide policies in line with AB 1266, and the Colorado and Maine state human rights commissions have held that state law requires schools to respect students’ gender identity. Additionally, many school districts across the country have adopted policies that ensure no student is left out, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district.”
Ross Murray, who runs the religion program at GLAAD and serves as a leader with The Naming Project, an LGBT camp based in Minnesota, says the number of trans youth who attend this camp has risen considerable in recent years, having gone from one or each summer to six or seven now. He says this bill now protects those kids who attend public school, some of whom also attend churches, synagogues and places of worship. “Protections for transgender youth in school will help them grow into healthy and productive adults who will eventually be America’s leaders,” Murray says.
However, Murray says that while this bill may prevent discrimination, it won’t necessarily stop bullying and harassment of trans kids from fellow students. Website like Everyone is Gay and training in creating spaces for transgender people offered by leaders like the Rev. Mykal Slack, a trans man of color and founder of 4Lyfe Ministries help counter the misinformation presented by organizations like
, a grassroots “pro-family” group founded on biblical principles akin to those espoused by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.
Just as encountering actual gay and lesbian people transformed the hearts and minds of many who once believed that homosexuality was a sin, what could happen if the media lens shifted away from those who use the Bible as a tool to demonize transgender people? What if we started hearing the stories from trans people and get to know these individuals as family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors? Just as comedian, actor, executive transvestite, marathoner and aspiring Mayor of London Eddie Izzard proclaims, “I believe in us,” I believe there exists a desire among many Americans to explore what it means to live as citizens in an increasingly pluralistic global society that truly embraces all in our shared global humanity.
Becky Garrison is a religion writer and author, most recently, of “Roger Williams’ Little Book of Virtues?” This report was supported by a 2012 Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life. The Knight Grants are a program of the University of Southern California’s Knight Program in Media and Religion.