By a Colorado Parent of a Transgender Child
My husband and I have not yet had the heart to speak with our young transgender child about the recently reported federal government plan to deny the very existence of transgender people. For several years, we have dedicated ourselves to learning how to support our child to live a healthy, well-adjusted life. We have been grateful for evidence-based guidance from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, who counsel parents to support their transgender children’s wellness by loving and affirming them in their gender identity. And although our child has experienced bullying and harassment at school because of their gender identity, we have been hopeful that our society is increasingly recognizing that transgender people deserve basic respect and civil rights.
That is why when we read the news of the Trump Administration’s plans to redefine gender as strictly binary, based on genitalia at birth, we were overcome with grief and fear that our child will go through life facing gender-based discrimination in housing, employment, education and health care, without any legal protections.
We are shielding our child from this information because we fear it would do deep and lasting psychological harm for them to learn that their government does not believe they deserve protection or recognition. Like many parents, we’re doing our best to shoulder adult problems so that our children are free to have happy, carefree childhoods. However, our child will learn about it eventually. I know many older transgender children and their friends already have. I’m concerned for all of their safety and mental health. It came as no surprise that calls to the Trans Lifeline (a suicide hotline for the trans community) quadrupled after the government’s plan was reported.
But we are not powerless. Each of us can act to make our communities safer places for all children regardless of their gender identity or expression. Here are seven things you can do now.
Connect with the transgender and gender-expansive youth in your life
Show them that you love and accept them for who they are. You can do this by respecting the pronouns and name they request, and by simply getting to know them as a unique and worthy person with interests, talents and gifts to share like anyone else.
Understanding and accepting transgender children is a potentially life-saving intervention. The overall attempted suicide rate for transgender people is as high as 43 percent. Similar research has found that female-to-male transgender adolescents reported the highest rate—just over half have attempted suicide. One study found that more than half of transgender youth with unsupportive families have attempted suicide. That statistic would keep any parent up at night.
However, that same study found that among transgender children whose families and communities support and accept them, that alarming statistic plummeted to 4 percent, and their mental health outcomes came into line with the general population.
We are trying to keep our child alive. That is why we choose to accept and love them unconditionally and advocate on their behalf.
Educate yourself about gender diversity; learn to separate fact from fiction
There is a lot of misinformation being spread about transgender youth that is based in neither fact nor research, although it claims to be. These harmful distortions—which typically claim that affirming transgender children is “radical gender ideology” or even “child abuse”—are influencing the policies the Trump Administration is reportedly considering. To get help separating fact from fiction, read this important 2017 piece from The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine.
Another reliable, fact-based resource is a video series from the Stanford School of Medicine. This series is a simple, accessible and accurate place to start for anyone who wants to learn more about what transgender kids need from the adults in their lives.
Help make your schools safer
We are fortunate that Colorado has well-established anti-discrimination laws that protect all students from discrimination, regardless of gender identity. A wide coalition of Colorado education leaders in collaboration with LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado published guidance for school districts and schools, educators and school communities working with transgender and gender-expansive students. Students who are transitioning should feel supported in changing their names and pronouns, and should have access to sports and other programs and activities, as well as locker rooms and restrooms, consistent with their gender identity. All children should be kept safe from harassment and discrimination.
Unfortunately, we still have a way to go in achieving that ideal. According to a Colorado Health Institute analysis of the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey results, a third of Colorado’s transgender high school students reported being threatened or harmed with a weapon on school grounds in the past year, and nearly half said they contemplated suicide in the past year. Transgender and gender-variant youth of color live at the intersection of multiple target identities, and thus contend with particularly complex dynamics.
Reach out to your child’s school or school district to ask how they are implementing these policies and guidelines, and suggest diversity trainings from groups like the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, which can help teachers, students and parents learn to support all students to have a safe, nurturing educational environment regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Peer support, such as gay-straight alliances, can give LGBTQ students, their friends and allies a place to connect, learn and support one another. The Colorado Gay-Straight Alliance Network is a great resource.
Meet your local librarians and book sellers
Often, the library is a place where people, kids especially, go to find information about sexual identity and gender identity because it is a neutral, welcoming and nonjudgmental place for them to ask questions and find answers. Children should have access to a wide selection of age-appropriate books representing gender diversity. This list is a good place to start.
Attend a support group
Not every city or town in Colorado has a support group that’s close and accessible for trans-identified people and their friends, families and allies. But many do. The GLBT Community Center of Colorado has a list of Front Range groups that support transgender and gender-variant individuals. It Takes a Village provides support and outreach for the Denver metro area transgender community, with a focus on people of color. Youth Seen offers a variety of support groups for parents and queer youth, centering families of color.
Elsewhere in the state, the 4 Corners Rainbow Youth Center in Durango also offers essential support and education to youth and families in the southwestern region of Colorado. Transcend Western Slope and MOGII - Western Slope Pride (the acronym stands for Marginalized Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex) have groups in Grand Junction. More groups are starting all the time. If there’s nothing going on in your neck of the woods, talk to a local nonprofit about helping to start one. Or join an online group.
For us, connecting with other parents of transgender children has been critical. Please consider donating to these groups.
Attend or help organize a pride event
Gender-expansive and transgender children can feel invisible, especially if they don’t have transgender adults in their lives, or if they don’t feel supported by their families and communities. Some pride events, like the one in our town, include programming specifically geared toward families. Seeing LGBTQ people out, proud and unafraid to be themselves in our own community prompted my child to describe the event as “the most powerful thing I’ve ever been part of.” The joy and light in their eyes lasted for weeks.
Speak up and step up
Speak up in support of civil rights for transgender people at school board meetings, with your staff, co-workers, neighbors and your own family. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Use your social media account to share credible information and perspectives from transgender people. Understand that transgender people of color and people in rural areas experience additional layers of challenges. You can also participate in the comment period for the proposed redefining of gender; follow the Transgender Law Center on how and when to comment.
The government does not have the right to define any of us out of existence. Transgender youth are human beings, not political pawns. It is more important than ever that our state government, local school districts, community organizations and families stand strong to protect everyone’s right to live authentic lives without discrimination, regardless of gender identity.
Our friends and community have held our family as we tried, cried and cheered. Organizational leaders in our community have received training, educated each other and changed policy to make our community a safer place for transgender and gender-variant youth to live authentic lives. They are showing up in real and wonderful ways, even when it has been hard.
They are being courageous so that transgender youth and their families aren’t the only ones who have to be.