Civil battles: a fight for students rights

Michigan government proposes LGBTQ+ inclusive guidelines

May 24, 2016

The simplest accepted definition of “gender” is the state of being male or female. However, “gender” is now understood as a vast, complex spectrum that requires an in-depth study to understand.

According to Paz Gualpo, professor of psychology and director of the Sexual and Gender Identity Research Lab at Towson University, it is important for students, and really everyone in general, to understand gender identity because it is the purest expression of intimate revelation.

In order to understand gender, it is necessary to know the difference between sex and gender.

“I think sex is biological,” junior MacKenzie Goss said. “Gender, though, is when a person feels like a man but is stuck in a female body. It’s psychological.”

Biological sex is static and unchanging, except in cases of sex reassignment therapy which can cost up to $20,000 according to Transgender at Work. Sex is classified by male and female. Gender, however, is fluid and classified by many labels. These labels are known as gender identities.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) defines gender identity as an individual’s internal sense of being a man, woman, neither of these or both.

According to Gender Spectrum, rather than just two distinct boxes, biological gender occurs across a continuum of possibilities.

“Gender identity is much more than biology,” Gualpo said. “Gender identity is an expression of a person’s understanding of their role in society. It does not rely on biological factors. It is found through personal reflection and individual behavior.”

Michigan Guidelines

On February 6, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released a draft of suggested guidelines titled, “State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Inclusive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.” The reason for suggesting these guidelines is due to research conducted by the MDE and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) indicating that LGBTQ students are targeted with physical violence and experience a hostile school environment more frequently than their non-LGBTQ peers.

“I believe that the Michigan Department of Education is doing a wonderful thing,” senior Samantha Adams said. “LGBTQ students deserve to have a safe, comfortable learning environment just as other students do. To deny them of this because of personal beliefs and practices is unfair.”

The draft of guidelines suggests actions such as calling transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) students by their preferred pronouns, allowing transgender and GNC students the privacy to share their information about their gender with whom they feel is fit.

It also includes allowing transgender and GNC students the ability to express their gender through dressing as they see fit and playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

“It’s important for students to feel comfortable in school,” freshman Shane Adams, who supports LGBTQ rights, said. “In high school, nothing is really concrete. It’s important for them to feel safe and comfortable, so that they can develop a sense of self just like everyone else.”

Public Comment

When submitting these guidelines, the Michigan Department of Education requested public comments on the draft, titled Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students, accepting written comments from March 12  through May 11 to be reviewed and considered before making a final decision.
As of April 12, more than 8,000 comments were submitted to the MDE. The responses have been both for and against the drafts guidelines.

Stockbridge High School conducted a survey regarding the content of the MDE’s guidelines. When asked if they agreed with the MDE wanting to enforce policies protecting students from harassment and discrimination based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, and/or gender expression, 75.51 percent of respondents said they agreed.

The guidelines have also elicited responses from large civil rights movements as well such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan.

The ACLU of Michigan posted a response to the MDE’s guidelines on March 24. In this response, the ACLU strongly encourages the MDE to adopt the draft in full and for schools statewide to implement them, stating that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX. The ACLU sent out emails encouraging supporters to leave positive comments on the board’s proposal online.

Along with large organizations such as the ACLU and Equality Michigan, other branches of organizations are pushing for the draft of these guidelines to be accepted.

Riot Youth, a program run by non-profit organization Neutral Zone, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan traveled to the capital in Lansing to participate in the State Board of Education’s board meeting on April 12.

The group’s facilitator, senior of online school Wave Washtenaw, Illyana Balde, attended the meeting with five other teens who are members of Riot Youth and four adults from Neutral Zone to speak at the State Board of Education’s meeting.

“Three of us teens spoke to the board about our own experiences in school,” Balde said. “I identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I spoke of how I felt unsafe in my old school. No one really understood who I was, and I would often get weird looks regarding how I dressed.  I strongly believe that if this draft is implemented that it will improve the school experiences of LGBTQ+ students.”
Others in her group shared similar experiences and agreed that the implementation of the MDE’s guidelines would provide LGBTQ+ students with the opportunity for safer, more inclusive learning environments.

Needs

According to the MDE’s draft of guidelines, a safe learning environment is important for transgender and GNC students because students who are bullied and harassed are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, feel excluded from the school community and experience lower academic achievement and stunted educational aspirations.

The implementation of these guidelines would also require information covering LGBTQ+ issues in all schools and libraries.

I believe that because of this draft that there will be more in depth education of the LGBTQ+ community and what it means,” Balde said, “which will cause more of an understanding from fellow peers, teachers and administrators.”

The information would include high-interest books and movies covering LGBTQ materials and review the computer-filtering protocol to ensure that students and other school community members can access information related to LGBTQ youth, local and national resources and LGBTQ health information.

“Transgender students should be treated just as everyone else is,” Shane said. “Teachers and students need to realize this and be civil, doing what is right and kind.”

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