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Day of the Girl: The Right of Trans* Girls to an Education

Thursday, September 22nd, has been deemed the Day of the Girl.  Focused on girls’ empowerment, girls and adults around the world will be taking actions today to remind everyone about the issues facing girls around the world.  I wanted to write a brief post to focus on something that doesn’t affect all girls, but should be a concern of all adults.

There’s been a lot of news lately about transgender youth and treatment of LGBT youth in schools.  Recently, Nightline aired a segment about Jackie, a 10-year-old transgender girl in Ohio (TW for misgendering by the host).  Though not all trans* people claim their identities early on, it is obvious that there are girls in primary and secondary school who are treated by their parents and teachers as boys, as well as girls who may later transition to be boys, or may later determine that they are neither male or female.  While some schools may address gay and lesbian people in their history or health curricula, few talk about the wide range of gender identities that exist.

It’s crucial that we recognize this detriment in our education systems and advocate for change.  According to Injustice At Every Turn, 78% of kids who expressed a transgender or non-conforming gender identity in grades K-12 reported harassment.  35% reported physical assault and 12% reported sexual violence.  15% left school at some point (K-12 or college) due to harassment.  31% reported some form of harassment by teachers or staff.  These numbers were higher for trans and gender non-conforming people of color.  Over time, these negative experiences as a student can lead to outcomes including poverty, homelessness, drug use, and suicide.

What can we do?  Anti-bullying initiatives are one step, but they can’t be the only one.  Trans* girls have a right to an education, which not only includes safety in school, but also recognition of themselves as human.  Curricula need to address the variety of gender and avoid gender essentialization and stereotyping.  This would benefit all girls, of course, not only those who identify or later identify as trans*.  Teachers also need to provide support and put themselves out there as available mentors for all girls.

When I was a girl, I had no idea that genderqueer people existed.  I didn’t learn about transgender until I was a teenager, and when I heard about third gender it was only in an international context.  No one ever suggested in school that gender identity can change over time, or that people don’t have to have a body that “matches” gender.  When I was ten, I wanted to be a boy and was heavily ridiculed to the point of being physically assaulted by my best friend on the playground, with the backing of the entire fifth grade class.  I’m just one example, and things were undoubtedly easier for me than for a girl who is considered to be a boy by her parents and teachers, but the example is illustrative.  We need to do better.  Today, as we think about the rights of girls, let’s not leave anyone out.