Increasing the scope of inclusivity

The Politics of Reading class has spent much of the past month discussing standardized tests and their impacts, looking at the way that standardized testing can unfairly and disproportionate exclude and hurt low-income, minority students. Certainly, credence and attention must be paid to these students who are primarily negatively impacted by hollow standards as set out by tests like No Child Left Behind.

However, other types of exclusivity occur within the realm of public education, mirroring larger injustices in society, that must be addressed – in every part of public schooling: the fact remains that school is often not a safe space for gender nonconforming, transgender, and genderqueer students. Forcing students in a binary for testing purposes — being labeled as “male” or “female,” as well as assessing the efficacy and progress in student test scores by gender leaves students who do not comfortably identify in the binary excluded.

I remember that every day, even before the administration of standardized tests, we said the pledge of allegiance in unison: one nation…with liberty and justice for all. Despite the promise of these words, many students, and in particular transgender students, fail to exercise these rights in schools.

Beyond standardized testing, the insidiousness of discrimination consistently harms transgender students, through ignorance, purposeful exclusion, and structurally-supported prejudice. Since the conversation about the gender spectrum ascended to the national stage, measures to exclude students have reached legislation. Recently, South Dakota Republican State Rep. Fred Deustch introduced a bill that if passed would bar transgender students from using bathrooms or locker rooms that do not correspond by their gender assigned at birth.

This is not the first type that discriminatory and, frankly, reprehensible measures have been undertaken to systematically further transgender students’ exclusion within schools.As reported by The New York Times, Houston voters rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance that would include the right for transgender individuals to use the bathrooms assigned to the gender with which they identified. Opponents of transgender rights have seemingly come out of the woodwork across the country as new, more-inclusive policies and practices are proposed for implementation.

In our class, we have recently discussed the lack of diversity in books, citing the Common Core Reading lists which is comprised of books from primarily white, English-speaking authors. Read more about it in my awesome classmates’ posts here and here. But inclusivity must range beyond a conversation about race or gender. The voices of transgender students and people have long been silenced, and creating an educational space that celebrates the struggles, stories, and accomplishments of people with all identities is necessary. For too long, students who do not comfortably identify within the normative gender binary have been marginalized and we have a responsibility to do something about it.

Although solutions are myriad and important — including teacher sensitivity training and internal education measures — it also prompts a need for standardization. Here, having national standards might actually seek to include rather than exclude: the national government should mandate that transgender, genderqueer, and non- gender conforming students have access to the spaces (such as locker rooms and bathrooms) that make them feel most comfortable. And, come election time, there is a simple solution for representatives who seek to exclude and to discriminate. We have the power to make schools more inclusive. We have the power to provide liberty and justice for all – as well as the responsibility.

 

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4 Responses to Increasing the scope of inclusivity

  1. Thank you for posting this! I think there needs to be more conversations surrounding LGBTQ people in education, more specifically centered on gender nonconforming and transgender students of color. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has done a couple of surveys where they asked queer students of color about their experiences in school. Two researchers, Diaz and Kosciw, discuss in their article, Shared differences: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students of color in our nation’s schools, that the experience of LGBTQ students of color are unique in that they are compounded not only with a lack of cultural competency from educators, but also with higher chances of absenteeism, harassment, and are often targets of biased, homophobic language within schools. What I found most shocking in this study was that students reported that, a lot of the time, teachers would not intervene when they were being harassed. You can find this article here:

    http://www.glsen.org/learn/research/national/report-shared-differences

    When some schools adopt a policy of neutrality on social issues, this means that some educators are unsure when it is appropriate to step in when students are being harassed for their social identities. Also, it causes opposition against inclusive practices like implementing gender neutral bathrooms, as discussed in your post. This does nothing to create a welcoming, safe space for gender and sexual minorities. These non-inclusive spaces can cause a lot of stress and anxiety to develop in marginalized students, which affects their physical and mental health, their achievement levels, and their overall quality of education. More information can be found in the study titled, Gendered restrooms and minority stress, The public regulation of gender and its impact on transgender people’s live, which can be found here:

    http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Herman-Gendered-Restrooms-and-Minority-Stress-June-2013.pdf

    On a systemic level, it is not rare to find schools that foster a hostile environment for LGTBQ students. This can harbor internalized hatred that adds to this reduced quality of life. When this hatred is both external and internal, it does harm to an individual and makes them feel trapped and devalued.

    It is important that we are now having this conversation. Besides gender neutral bathrooms, what are other ways to ensure LGBTQ students of color are feeling represented and safe within our schools?

    Thank you for posting!

    Like

  2. claire.s says:

    Mayjax, thanks for your post. Check out this article from the newspaper at East Chapel Hill High School — http://eastchapelhillobserver.com/2016/02/09/chccs-implements-gender-neutral-bathroom-policy/ — CHCCS schools have recently implemented single stall gender neutral bathrooms as well as stated that all current gendered bathrooms are open to use by anyone that identifies to the specified gender. When it comes to creating inclusive spaces like these for gender nonconforming, transgender, and genderqueer students, it is not only an issue of showing acceptance and respect for these identities, it is also an issue of safety. Lack of access to appropriate restrooms could not only cause transgender students to avoid using the restroom entirely while at school, which could cause illness or bodily injury, it could also cause students to fear for their physical safety when having to choose one restroom or another.

    Additionally, I do wonder what the impact of single stall gender neutral bathrooms will be in schools. Are they potentially a form of segregation that will cause students to feel singled out when using these restrooms? Will some students avoid using them in order to avoid being targeted or singled out for their gender nonconforming/transgender/genderqueer identity? Do further steps need to be taken towards fully gender neutral bathrooms?

    Like

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