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North Carolina recently passed the controversial "bathroom law," HB2, that
mandates public bathroom usage based on physical anatomy rather than gender
identity. Similar laws are on the table
in nine other states.
Many of us have strong feelings about this—we are disappointed or concerned—but then we get on with our days. Pamela Valentine, mom to a transgender child, doesn't have
Valentine lives in Illinois where
a similar bill amending school code, HB4474, has moved to the Rules Committee for further consideration. Like the North Carolina law, it would require
her son (born her daughter) to use the bathroom and locker room of the sex
assigned to her child at birth. The
Illinois law, "Defines 'sex' as the physical condition
of being male or female, as determined by an individual's chromosomes and
identified at birth by that individual's anatomy."
For Valentine and her son, Jake (a pseudonym to protect his identity), this proposed
legislation is a nightmare.
bill is not about my trans son using a bathroom, but is an invasion of privacy,
a breach of his civil rights," Valentine told me in a recent interview. She questions how these new bathroom laws are going to be enforced. Will there be blood tests to check for X and
Y chromosomes? Will the school start
conducting gender checks, and, if so, who might conduct those? Will birth certificates be required to use a
Those things might sound far-fetched, but for mothers of transgender
children, they are very real questions.
But the positive aspects of transgender awareness may be having a negative impact on transgender children in school settings.
As transgender awareness in America increases, society is also approaching a tipping point. Parents like Valentine are learning the hard way that their transgender children are increasingly vulnerable to a growing bias that is playing itself out in state
and municipal legislative bodies across the country.
Valentine has a theory as to why transgender issues are now at the
"The term is LGBT—lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender. A lot of
these issues have been resolved in federal courts, like marriage equality or
the military policy of 'Don't ask, don't tell.' Now it is time for the 'T' in LGBT. Transgender issues are having their turn."
But the positive aspects of transgender awareness may be having a negative impact on transgender children in school
settings. Valentine said she feels very strongly
about school bathrooms being at the center of this movement.
"Schools should be a haven for our children,
all children," she said. "You can't learn if you don't
feel safe. Sending transgender kids to
the bathroom of their assigned gender as opposed to their identified gender
sends the message that there is no safe space for them—they are not allowed
to be themselves or protected."
Given what research proves—that transgender children who have the support and protection of their families fare better—it stands to reason that those same vulnerable children would equally benefit by being protected at schools.
Protection is crucial for transgender children. While the national suicide attempt rate for
Americans is 4.6 percent, that figure jumps to 41 percent for transgender individuals. The numbers inch higher to 45 percent for young
people (18 to 24 years old). For youth
harassed or bullied at school, the suicide attempt rates trend even higher to
50 to 54 percent. (Statistics
compiled by The Williams Institute, 2014.) Transgender children that fare the best are those who receive open
acceptance and support at home.
Jake, Valentine's son, first showed signs of being transgender as a
young toddler. The then little girl would
say, "I am a boy!" This went on for
years. Finally, Valentine said, "You
couldn't not listen to him anymore."
She said she asked herself, "What am I doing? What am
I doing to my own child?" It was at that
point, Valentine said, that she realized there is so much more to gender than
simply boy or girl. She supported her
child's needs and wishes to transition.
Rights Campaign states on their website that parents who are concerned about whether their child is transgender should listen to them and provide non-judgmental
support. The pattern for asserting a
different gender identity is "consistent, insistent and persistent." In other words, not the boy who likes pink or
the girl who plays with trucks, but the child who, over a period of months or
longer, reports feeling different than the gender they were born as.
Given what research proves—that transgender children who have the support
and protection of their families fare better—it stands to reason that those
same vulnerable children would equally benefit by being protected at schools. For now, the transgender children in North
Carolina don't have that, and transgender children in Illinois, Kansas,
Kentucky, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and
Tennessee are on the cusp of losing it.
Pamela Valentine wants to know why.
You can read about mothering a transgender child
at Pamela Valentine's blog on ChicagoNow, Affirmed Mom.