Ten-year-old Dempsey Jara, a transgender girl who lives just south of Orlando in Osceola County, Florida, loves running. She’s the fastest girl on her school’s cross-country team, according to her.
But next year, when she starts sixth grade and moves to a new middle school, she might be forced to run for the boys’ team.
“I want to run for the women’s team because I’m a girl,” she said. “And I don’t want to be on the men’s team because I’m not a boy.”
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill last year banning transgender women from playing on sports teams — nominally because of the lingering belief that they have an unfair advantage. Earlier this week, Arizona and Oklahoma became the third and fourth states to do the same.
“I don’t understand at all,” Dempsey said. “I just try to be myself, live my life and be a kid.”
Meanwhile, Dempsey’s mother, an 11th grade history teacher, focuses on the Sunshine State’s more recent efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ students – namely the controversial new law dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay”, which prohibits the teaching of sexuality in the classroom. orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade. The legislation is being touted by the Conservatives as a parental rights bill and an antidote to what they see as a public school system that excludes them.
“The problem I have is that not only am I Dempsey’s mother and cheerleader, but I’m also a teacher,” says Jaime Jara. “I have a trans child in my class who is not supported at home, so the only time she hears her pronouns is in my class when her name is called. When we start removing these safe spaces , many children say school is the only safe space they have.
Jara says the academic scale covered by the new law matches the three years it took Dempsey to transition socially.
“What would I do if this law had been in place,” asks Jara. “Hide her? She was growing her hair. The children had questions.
Jara and Dempsey met Thursday morning with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who traveled to Orlando to speak with students and families on Transgender Awareness Day. He has warned conservative states passing laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQ students and their families that he is prepared to use his authority to investigate them.
“We have the Civil Rights Office. And at this point, the office is designed to ensure that the civil rights of students are protected,” Cardona said. “So if in the implementation we receive requests for investigations, we will investigate thoroughly.”
Cardona said her warning is not limited to Florida and that other states that pass similar legislation targeting LGBTQ children and their families will be investigated if her agency is asked to do so.
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“Unfortunately, this is a worrying trend across the country,” he said.
The National Center for Youth Law has tracked nearly 200 state laws that have been introduced in the last year that would restrict teaching about racism, gender identity, sex, equity and other so-called “divisive” topics, or would reduce the rights of LGBTQ students. and their families by not allowing them to use the restroom or play on sports teams that match their gender identity. And while most don’t come out of the committee, GOP-controlled states are pursuing various versions of it at breakneck speed.
“For some people who are so against masks, why are we asking our children to mask who they are,” Cardona asked. “This is unacceptable. At a time when this country needs healing and coming together, we unfortunately have a policy that aims to divide our country.”
Cardona’s visit to the Sunshine State came alongside a number of new guidelines the White House announced Thursday to elevate recognition of transgender and non-binary people, including allowing US citizens to select an ‘X’ as a gender marker on US passport applications beginning in April. 11.
The list of new policies also includes changes to airport screening and identity validation, filing employment discrimination complaints, access to retirement savings and, if approved after a public comment period, the application for federal student aid.
In direct reference to why Cardona chose to travel to Florida on this National Transgender Awareness Day, the Biden administration also released several new resources on Thursday to help transgender children and their parents overcome gender issues. mental health associated with a list of ongoing anti-LGBTQ laws. in conservative states.
Among other things, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new website that details best practices for affirming LGBTQ children and information about suicide prevention services; the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools is set to offer new training for school leaders to discuss the challenges faced by many transgender and non-binary students, as well as strategies and actions to provide support; and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released new information for providers confirming that providing gender-affirming care is neither child abuse nor professional misconduct.
The latter takes direct aim at an order signed by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in February that directed the Department of Family and Protective Services of the State to investigate parents of transgender children for possible child abuse. children. Conservatives argue that gender-affirming care constitutes child abuse, but the order was halted earlier this month after a state court ruled the policy was improperly enacted and violated the State constitution.
“The evidence is clear that these types of bills stigmatize and worsen the well-being and mental health of transgender children, and they put loving and supportive families across the country at risk of discrimination and harassment,” they said. White House officials said when announcing the list of changes. “Trans people are some of the bravest people in our country. But no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.
When the pandemic closed schools in March 2020, LGBTQ students lost one of the most important support systems – and in many cases the only support systems – they had, resulting in severe social setbacks. and emotional and an alarming increase in mental health problems, including autonomy. -abuse and suicide.
Data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that more than a third of all high school students said they had poor mental health during the pandemic, with 44% saying they felt constantly sad and hopeless, 55% reporting having been emotionally abused by a parent or adult at home and 11% reporting having been physically abused.
But LGBTQ students, according to the data, reported even higher levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse from a parent or caregiver, and attempted suicide than their counterparts.
“School connectivity is critical to dealing with adversities for young people at all times — especially during times of severe disruption,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s School and Adolescent Health Division. “Students need our support now more than ever, whether it’s ensuring their schools are inclusive and safe or providing them with opportunities to engage in their communities and be nurtured by supportive adults. .
Transgender children, who were already at higher risk for attempted suicide or mental health problems due to bullying, rejection and denial of health care, are disproportionately affected, other research shows.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey of LGBTQ Mental Health, 78% of transgender and non-binary youth said their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19, 52% seriously considered attempted suicide in the last year and 1 in 5 suicide attempts.
“Politicians across the country will mark this day by pushing heartbreaking legal and legislative attacks to regulate almost every aspect of the daily lives of young trans and non-binary people,” said Same Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs of the Project Trevor, who traveled to states including Texas and Florida last week to advocate against anti-transgender legislation.
“We know these attacks are unfounded,” he said. We know these politicians don’t care about “fairness” in women’s sports, “safety” in medicine, or “parents’ rights” in education. We know there will always be those who would rather we simply didn’t exist.
The vast majority of school leaders and educators oppose the flood of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced and signed into law by Republican governors and have expressed concern that at a time when the most marginalized children have need more support than ever, some states are in dire straits. race to the bottom to pass bills that rob them of their ability to provide it. And the criticism extends beyond bills targeting LGBTQ students to also include the growing number of laws that prevent teachers from speaking to students about topics such as race and equity – often framed by conservatives as an effort to eliminate critical race theory from the curriculum even though there is little to no evidence that it is currently taught at the K-12 level.
“It is essential that schools be a welcoming environment for teaching and learning, and vital for teachers and school staff to know, see and support their transgender students,” Cardona said. “Transgender students should have every opportunity to thrive in school, like all students.”
Florida has been a particularly acute thorn in Cardona’s side, and this isn’t the first time he’s been threatened with using the department’s Civil Rights Office to investigate the state. At the start of the current school year, the secretary said he was ready to investigate Florida and other states over laws prohibiting school districts from requiring students and teachers to wear masks. The department has since covered the salaries of school board members and district leaders whose salaries were docked by the DeSantis for implementing the mask mandates anyway.
Cardona said the Civil Rights Office is ready to pursue any complaints that may arise from the state’s new “don’t say gay” legislation.
“We know that transgender students are among the most vulnerable, not because of who they are, but because of the hostility directed at them,” Cardona said. “This includes a growing number of state laws that bully and intimidate transgender students and their families. These laws are an affront to who we are as a nation.