Richmond, Born and Raised- And Also Transgender
First, I would like to humbly thank you for your time and consideration to this issue. I hold the safety and security of transgender and nonbinary youth very near and dear to me.
I was a Virginia public school student, having spent the entirety of my life within the greater Richmond area. When I was in elementary, middle, and even high school, I did not know who I was. All of us in these formidable years are searching for the traits that will define us and who we are to become. For some, including myself, that searching involves questioning why we feel so out of place everywhere—including our own bodies.
Most reading this, I am sure, would state this is a normal part of growing up. But how many of you have found yourselves gripping the bathroom counter, staring at yourself in the mirror, and not seeing yourself in your reflection? Maybe you see parts of yourself you do not like, but that is not to what I am referring. When I looked at myself in the mirror, all I saw was a stranger. The fear you have when you see an unfamiliar figure while fumbling for your car keys late at night in an unlit parking lot- that is the fear I felt when I looked at myself in the mirror. The body that was continuing to grow around me was not the body I knew in my soul to be.
In middle and high school, when I had to use the girls’ locker room to get dressed for gym class, I was told that we could not use the bathroom stalls to change. Instead, we had to change in front of everyone. Changing in front of others, particularly in these formidable years, can be both a humiliating and humbling experience. For transgender and nonbinary youth, it is the moment that we fear the most. I can tell you for a fact if a gym teacher had given me the consideration of changing privately or even allowed me the ability to confide in them, it would have drastically changed my public school experience. I spent many of my early years in education, as many transgender and nonbinary youth do, being bullied, berated, and antagonized over my body. When I went home and looked at myself in the mirror, I was antagonized more.
I do not look back on my years in public school fondly. Instead, I remember the fearful person who would not be able to fathom the man I have become today. I am the man I am because I have resisted and persisted through the discrimination I have had to face. No child should have to go through the pain, suffering, and self-doubt I had to work through. This policy would be the first steppingstone into ensuring no child ever feels like that again.
It is shown educational growth cannot be fostered if students do not feel safe. The accommodation of transgender and nonbinary students does not directly harm any individual. There are many who may disagree with this idea, but the implementation of this policy does not directly threaten their life. We stand to lose much more by not implementing this policy. If no lawful consideration is given to these students who are only asking for the right to exist, how can you expect these students to feel safe enough to learn?
According to the Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health1, “…more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth [have] seriously considered suicide.” I am a part of this statistic. I can say if this policy existed when I was in school, I would have been considerably less likely to consider suicide.
In the same survey, “Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.” As I mentioned previously with my experience, transgender and nonbinary youth constantly must shoulder the burden of bullying by peers, mentors, and superiors only to come home and continue that burden when they see that stranger in the mirror. It is a feeling that I admittedly find myself unable to describe any better, but it is a feeling all transgender and nonbinary people experience.
The crude fact is you stand to lose nothing but your own pride should you allow the passing of this policy. If you decide your opinion matters more than the safety of Virginian students, you stand for perpetuating discrimination and pain in our education system.
Do not allow any more transgender or nonbinary students to experience what I did in your schools. Do not allow them to feel so isolated that they believe their only option is to die. You can help stop this cycle of discrimination. You can help stop this cycle of pain.
Pass the Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.
Thank you again for your time and consideration.
1More information on the Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health can be found here: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/The-Trevor-Project-National-Survey-Results-2020.pdf.