Being in middle school is tough. Your body is going through often mortifying changes: acne, body hair, growth spurts. Not to mention raging hormones. Kids are often relentlessly cruel to each other. You aren’t old enough to drive. Your parents are hopelessly lame.
Not to mention the active shooter drills you have to go through on a routine basis because the U.S. can’t get its shit together when it comes to guns. It’s revolting that protecting children from being slaughtered in math class is a partisan issue in this country and that Republicans are on the side of the guns.
Also, a partisan issue in this country is how, or whether, to protect transgender students. (Spoiler alert: Republicans are not on the side of the students. Again.) You might remember that the Obama administration issued guidelines to schools that said, essentially, “Hey, transgender students are human beings so treat them accordingly.”
In many schools, this wasn’t a big deal. And by big deal, I mean it wasn’t much of an adjustment. It was, however, a big deal for trans students. I mean, man, if the President of the United States had advocated for the protection of LGBTQ students when I was in high school that would have meant the world to me. It would have made a lot of LGBTQ kids feel less alone and also feel a little safer.
However, the guidance led to a bit of scrambling in some more conservatives places in the country where treating trans kids as human beings was a foreign concept. Much hand-wringing existed over whether trans kids should pee or change for gym.
And then came the Trump administration which scrapped guidelines protecting trans students. Trans kids went from a president who cared about them to one who was actively hostile.
And so the issue of where trans kids should pee or change was left up to individual schools. And some schools are doing a really bad job. Case in point: what happened at a Stafford County middle school in Virginia on September 28.
On that day the school held an active-shooter drill. During which the teachers made sure to shelter students in a designated area. One of the places of safety was the locker room. The boys went into the boys’ locker room and the girls went into the girls.
Except for one transgender girl disallowed in either locker room. According to multiple reports, the teachers didn’t know what to do with her and, after much debate, she made the girl sit in the hallway, completely exposed to the attack that her other classmates were practicing how to survive.
Now, of course, it was only a drill. It’s not like exposure to any danger existed, right? Well, yes, technically. But the point of a drill is to practice for an actual threat. And the communication to this young girl was, essentially, “You’re on your own.”
Now, you don’t need guidance from the federal government to tell you that there is no such thing as expendable children. But when guidance acknowledges that trans students exist and affirms their right to be protected is issued only to be taken away, that is a pretty strong signal to trans students and the people who are supposed to teach and protect that they are worthless.
GLSEN released its 2017 National School Climate Survey, which shows that “victimization of LGBTQ youth is not decreasing at rates previously seen — and has, in fact, gotten worse for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth.”
And it won’t get better until we have elected officials who see LGBTQ youth as human beings. One of the best things you can do for LGBTQ people is to vote. Make a plan to vote on Nov. 6. Spend some time researching the candidates. Since hostility toward LGBTQ people is part of the Republican platform, voting for Democrats is a no-brainer, but knowing who you’re voting for when it comes to judges and other nonpartisan offices is also important. A good resource is vote411.org.
If you’re thinking of sitting out this election, I urge you to think of that girl sitting alone in the hallway, imaginary bullets flying. Vote like her life depends on it.
D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer, and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.