Editor’s Note: Recently, Tudor Dixon and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer weighed in on Michigan Department of Education (MDE) training that touches on parental notification as it relates to LGBTQ+ students. MDE urges caution in these situations. Dixon called on Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice to resign, while Whitmer responded with a letter to MDE urging the agency to make changes that “continue bringing parents' perspectives into the work you do."
When parents send their children to school, they expect learning spaces where their children are cared for and kept safe. Children who are physically and emotionally safe are more likely to learn, thrive and achieve positive educational outcomes. For transgender and gender nonconforming youth, using names and pronouns they prefer is part of what makes them feel safe and seen, which fosters successful school environments.
In a perfect world, every family would be supportive of their transgender/gender nonconforming children and teachers would work in partnership with parents to make sure that safety is felt both at home and school. Unfortunately, we live in a world where, according to youth.gov, LGBTQ+ young people are significantly overrepresented in the homeless population, and the number one cause of this homelessness is family rejection. This is one reason why the MDE, in its guidance on supporting LGBTQ+ students, recommends caution when a student has not come out to their families. Schools are encouraged to not only consider the responsibility to keep parents informed, but to foremost “consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student.”
Stand with Trans agrees with MDE — when a student is expressing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, these concerns must be reported to parents in ways that do not disclose the student’s gender identity unless the student has given permission. If a student does not feel safe disclosing that information to their parents, forcing them to share — or sharing without their consent —may only serve to increase their stress, possibly causing an increase in self-harm. It is disheartening to see the misinterpretation of MDE training materials and the suggestion that teachers do just that.
Stand with Trans’ mission is “to empower and support transgender youth and their loved ones.” We know from direct experience that many families are not initially equipped to support their transgender or gender nonconforming children, and that many children come out to peers, teachers and school counselors before coming out to their parents. Stand with Trans provides programs and services to support transgender youth, their parents and families, and their allies. Our organization provides youth with spaces where they belong and helps to extend that belonging into the most important places in their lives. We agree with MDE regarding the importance of keeping transgender and gender nonconforming students safe in schools.
In the words of our support specialist, Vic, a transgender college student: “If I was in a space where my trans identity was exposed to my parents/caregivers without my consent, I would be petrified and heartbroken. I would have lost trust in staff who crossed my boundaries and put me in more danger by exposing information unnecessarily. Coming out is such a complex personal journey, and it is unfair to share such private information against someone’s wishes. So many trans youth are in unaccepting or unsafe living situations, where coming out could cost them their protection and housing. I would not want school staff to share my transgender identity with anyone I hadn’t given permission to know.”
S’Niyah, another young transgender staff member at Stand with Trans, says: “If I was at school and was out as trans, I wouldn't want the school outing me to my parents without my consent. Other trans youth and I have our own path for telling our families about our transitions based on our life situations, which the school isn't aware of. If a trans kid is outed to their parents when they're not ready, that will cause unbelievable levels of stress and anxiety for them because they either aren't sure about how their parents will react or know they'll react negatively.”
For educators and those working in schools, please talk with your students before taking action. Take the time to understand the home situation and if sharing with the parent is safe for the child. When children are in school, they count on physical and emotional safety; they count on trusted adults to be their advocates. Parents and school staff should be a team in supporting all children, and Stand with Trans commends the Michigan Department of Education for allowing schools the freedom to best support transgender and gender nonconforming students.
—Owen Bondono, Board Member, and co-signed by Executive Director Roz Keith, Stand with Trans Board of Directors and Stand with Trans Staff