My students hosted a walkout to protest transphobic legislation; I proudly joined them
Transphobic bills in Louisiana and other states reflect a broader culture war. They seek to make a teacher’s job more challenging in an already overburdened profession while putting the lives of transgender students in peril.
Last Friday, I highlighted the activism of high school students in a lesson on the early civil rights movement. In 1951, 450 Black students at Moton High School in Virginia hosted walkouts to protest inequitable conditions stemming from school segregation.
The NAACP attached their cause with existing cases to challenge school segregation, resulting in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. After that lesson, a transgender student notified me that students were planning a walkout to oppose Louisiana House Bill 570, one of many anti-transgender bills circulating nationwide.
According to this bill:
HB 570 and similar legislation are part of a recent wave of both anti-teacher and transphobic legislation. While these bills reflect a broader culture war, they have a real, material impact on our youth. These bills seek to make a teacher’s job more challenging in an already overburdened profession while putting the lives of transgender students in peril.
When a student reveals information to us regarding their identity, they are putting their full faith (and at times, their lives) into the hands and hearts of a teacher. Teachers accept that responsibility and protect and cherish that trust. HB570 is intentionally designed to erode the trust between educator and student while further alienating a marginalized student population that we know already faces depression, victimization, and thoughts of suicide at rates that far overshadow their cisgendered peers.
This legislation seeks to terrify transgender students and turn teachers into snitches reminiscent of Cold War-era McCarthyist witch hunts. If a student shares information about their identity they deem sensitive, we must respect that student’s desires for time and privacy instead of becoming provocateurs of the same victimization that these students face from transphobic peers and members of their community. In many cases, students confide in teachers because they have nowhere else to turn, or they’re not yet ready to divulge sensitive information to loved ones.
Teachers must do more than preserve trust or simply protect sacred information delivered to us. We must also validate the identities of our students, especially those who exist in the margins. A lack of validation carries serious consequences as evidenced by a 2020 study from the Trevor Project regarding “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other gender nonconforming” students:
According to the director of research at the Trevor Project, “We have found, now year over year, that greater levels of support and acceptance is associated with dramatically lower rates of attempting suicide.” Validating a student’s identity can be both life-changing and lifesaving. Our job as teachers is not to simply teach content, but to nurture, protect, and holistically support students. We know how to do this better than the politicians who have never taught in a classroom yet draft harmful policy.
These bills seek to make a teacher’s job more challenging in an already overburdened profession while putting the lives of transgender students in peril.
These anti-trans bills are not just exclusive to Louisiana. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter instructing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming medical care as child abuse. In Idaho, HB 675 criminalizes gender-affirming surgeries by making it a felony punishable with a life sentence.
As a teacher who has witnessed the struggle faced by many transgender students firsthand, I firmly stand opposed to this unethical legislation. It would be hypocritical to stand with my students within classroom walls and abandon that stance when political tides shift. To do so would be emblematic of a false sense of solidarity – an inauthentic alliance out of convenience.
As these bills pass, then I will eagerly engage in civil disobedience exemplified by the numerous historical figures discussed in my class. Protecting students will always take precedence over hyper-partisan legislation. As teachers, we need to continue to honor the trust of my students.
I encourage other teachers to follow suit, whether it’s visibly identifying yourself as an ally, wearing symbolic support, speaking at school board meetings, or organizing with your staff and students. Our students deserve allies, not colluders.
As a teacher, I proudly joined my students on their walkout to stand in solidarity with them.
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