Instead of placing barriers before transgender students, we should empower all students to pursue their dreams to succeed and thrive. (Toby Talbot/AP File Photo)

Transgender students need to feel truly safe and supported

In March, North Carolina enacted a vicious law targeting transgender people, including students in schools, for discrimination and harassment, and similar legislation has followed in other states. Proponents of these laws falsely claim it is somehow dangerous or impossible for schools to support their transgender students, despite clear guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.

As the president of the Board of Education in San Francisco, and a recent San Francisco public school graduate, we have firsthand knowledge of what it looks like to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming students have full and equal education opportunities.

For us, safety for transgender students isn’t about a set of talking points or abstract policies, it’s an every day reality. When Rexy, one of our co-authors, transferred to San Francisco’s Mission High School, the San Francisco Unified School District had already created a policy to affirm that all students should be able to participate fully in school and access all school activities and facilities in keeping with their gender identity.

By the time our other co-author, Commissioner Haney, was elected by the Board of Education to serve as its president this January, SFUSD’s policy on this matter was nearly a decade old.

In California, the School Success and Opportunity Act, which became law on Jan. 1, 2014, made respect for the gender identity of all students the law of the land here in the Golden State.

Yet, despite these enormous steps forward, we know our work is not over. We know that national surveys, like the one conducted by GLSEN, still find that as many as three out of every four transgender students report feeling unsafe at school. And, sadly, we can confirm that bullying still pervades our classrooms from our own experiences as a student and a school board leader —— even in the schools doing the most to stop it.

However, for students, educators, and school districts around California and across the country, we have an important message: Everyone in your school will only gain from policies that make transgender students, and everyone else, feel truly safe and supported.

Instead of placing barriers before any student who wants to participate in a school activity, we should be empowering all students to pursue their dreams, to be free to succeed and feel safe to thrive. That’s how Rexy felt when her JROTC instructor ensured that she had the uniform that matched her gender identity — and that’s how we want all students to feel.

We are committed to building a future where all people, of every age, are treated with dignity and respect, including transgender people. That’s why we both publicly joined Transform California, a new statewide campaign to ensure that all people can live safely, happily and free from discrimination — whether that’s at school, in the workplace or in our communities. We are proud to be part of this effort and proud to help San Francisco and California lead by example on this important issue of safety and fairness.

Matt Haney is president of San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education and Rexy Amaral is a recent Mission High School Alum and Youth Leader.

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