by Luis Miguel Navarro
Over the last several months, some in the media have portrayed Caitlyn Jenner’s transition as something to be shocked by or gawked at. This comical portrayal by the media of her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn takes the seriousness away from issues of transgender rights.
Laverne Cox, a star on the hit show “Orange is the New Black,” is a transgender woman who uses her time off camera to talk about and advocate for transgender people and bring awareness to transgender rights. Laverne stated in an interview with Time magazine that she was harassed and bullied while growing up. For many transgender youth, being bullied and harassed is still a reality. As Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins recently stated, transgender individuals “suffer disproportionate discrimination and violence in our society.”
According to the Trevor Project, nearly half of young transgender people have contemplated taking their lives, and one quarter of them have actually tried. Social workers, especially those working in the school setting, should be aware of the struggles of the transgender community to better serve their clients. Transgender individuals in schools are especially vulnerable, because they are often discriminated against by their peers and the laws that govern the schools.
California was the first state to adopt a statewide law aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington, and Colorado have adopted similar policies aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students.
In California, the School Success and Opportunity Act, also known as AB 1266, allows transgender youth in public schools to use facilities that are consistent with their gender identity (the identity they identify with). Although this law went into effect in 2013, many schools in California did not implement it.
When the law went into effect, there was a large backlash by parent groups and religious organizations. The arguments that were brought up include the following: the law opens up bathrooms and showers to the opposite sex, schools forcing girls and boys to share facilities will lead to an increase in bullying, and the law will exacerbate the hormonal battles inside of already confused teenagers. The same parents and religious groups head coalitions that are in the process of attempting to put a new bill on the California 2016 ballot to repeal AB 1266. Although the coalitions are right to worry about privacy and safety in public schools, this is disturbing, because it’s attempting to take rights away from a marginalized population.
Despite the progress that has been made recently, there continues to be a rise in suicidality and suicide attempts by transgender youth throughout the country. In order to help this population, schools need to be made into safe places where all students have the same opportunity to succeed.
School social workers in particular should be concerned with this issue, because they can make the most impact on the lives of transgender youth. School social workers are the counselors, advocates, and voice for this marginalized population. There are many things social workers can do to further the cause, including finding out what the laws are in your area, writing your congressman, attending school board meetings to educate board members on transgender issues, and finding ways to make schools more welcoming to the transgender community.
Jenner recently stated, on a special about transitioning to a woman, that as a society we need to learn tolerance, so we can understand each other. Social workers can use the stories of people like Jenner and Laverne Cox to create a discourse and create tolerance in people who aren’t familiar with transgender issues.
Don’t be the last person to be in on the discussion. Get out today and talk about Caitlyn Jenner, talk about Laverne Cox, and talk about the rights of transgender students in schools.
For additional reading
Bentley, J. (2015, May 19). Keeping up with the Kardashians: About Bruce's best quotes about Bruce Jenner's transition. US Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/kuwtk-about-bruces-best-quotes-about-bruce-jenners-transition-2015195
Perry, T. (2015, April 16). Assembly adjourns in memory of transgender teens that committed suicide. Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transgender-suicide-20150416-story.html
Time Magazine. (2014, May 29). Laverne Cox talks to TIME about the transgender movement. Retrieved from http://time.com/132769/transgender-orange-is-the-new-black-laverne-cox-interview/
The Trevor Project. (2015). Facts about suicide. Retrieved from http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide
Luis Miguel Navarro is an MSW/MPH candidate at the University of Southern California with experience in working with the public school special education population. Luis’ main area of interest is working in a preventive setting with minority adolescents who are at risk for substance abuse and STI.