Talking About Transgender Discrimination with Kids

This is a day late, but this is my Monday Inspiration for the week. Enjoy!

Last week, Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General BROKE IT DOWN by making a statement in response to North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom law”, so named by far-right extremists wishing to incite fear at the thought of encountering transgender people in public restrooms. This law was created in response to non-discrimination laws protecting transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

What was so amazing about Ms. Lynch’s statement was that she spoke out not only against a law which unfairly tried to restrict transgender people’s use of bathrooms, she compared the law to Jim Crow segregation laws of the south. In doing this, she legitimized transgender discrimination and elevated its visibility in the eyes of all Americans. Moreover, she did something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: As one of the top-level officials in our nation, she publicly affirmed the value of our nation’s transgender community and acknowledged the suffering they’ve endured as a result of bigotry and homophobia in our country.

According to Time Magazine:

In brief remarks before announcing the federal government would sue the state over the law known as HB2, Lynch, a Greensboro native and the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, compared the bill to Jim Crow, resistance to school desegregation and opposition to same-sex marriage.

“This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms,” she said. “This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us.”

Loretta Lynch’s statement on North Carolina bathroom…

Not only were Ms. Lynch’s words inspiring, they are a great example of someone taking a stand against discrimination, even when it doesn’t directly affect them. This is what it means to be an ally!

(Read her full remarks here.)

Talking about Discrimination in Different Contexts

I highly recommend sharing U.S. District Attorney Lynch’s speech with your kids/students. In her speech, Ms. Lynch skillfully relates two forms of discrimination: racism and discrimination against transgender people. In doing so, she sets a great example of using a familiar concept like racism to explain the ways that discrimination works in the context of being transgender.

After watching the video with my kids, I plan to ask: “How are these two types of discrimination similar or different?”

And in order to do this conversation justice with my kids (who are 10), I’ll be making sure to cover basic terms such as stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. These words are all related, but are NOT the same.

Here are the definitions I’m using:

  • A stereotype is a commonly held belief about a group of people. e.g. “All Black people can dance.”
  • A prejudice is a feeling about a person based on stereotypes about their group membership. e.g. “I don’t like to hire Latinos because they are lazy.”
  • Both stereotypes and prejudice can be either positive or negative. Even “positive” stereotypes/prejudices are harmful to individuals and society at large.
  • When groups of people hold prejudices about members of marginalized or underrepresented groups, it can lead to discrimination, which is when members of privileged groups undertake actions that deny the rights of a person due to their group membership.

It is important to note that discrimination relies on POWER. Non-transgender people are the majority, and are thus in power in our society. It is possible for example for a transgender person to hold prejudices against non-transgender people. Nonetheless, a transgender person does not hold enough societal power to pass laws against non-transgender people and actually discriminate against them. This is an important distinction.

Addressing transgender discrimination with your kids

Watching this historic statement by Loretta Lynch with your kids/students is a great opportunity to discuss transgender discrimination. But, unless you are a member of or work closely with the transgender community, you may not be well versed on how to talk about transgender issues using unbiased or inaccurate language.

[Full disclaimer: I am NOT a member of the LGBTQ+ community. That is not a reason for me to avoid talking about this important issue with my kids. In fact, if more members of privileged groups talked about discrimination, I think we’d have far less bullying, suicide and discrimination of LGBTQ+ members of our society. That said, I may not get all this correct, so if you are reading this and ARE a member of the LGBTQ+ community, please feel free to correct me directly here or in the comments below, and help me and my readers become more educated!]

Here are some helpful distinctions you can make when addressing transgender discrimination:

  • Sex and gender are related, but NOT THE SAME. People who identify as transgender, don’t feel their gender identity (e.g. “I’m a boy or girl”) matches the biological sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity are also NOT THE SAME. Sexual orientation has to do with “who you love (romantically)” or are sexually attracted to, while gender identity has to do with “who you are”.

Correct terms for discussing the transgender people

Because of the biased ways we have all been socialized, talking about transgender issues can be tricky. Especially if we have never done it before. Heck! It can even difficult for transgender parents!

Below are some helpful definitions that I’ve adapted from the GLADD Media Reference Guide on Transgender Issues to make them more “kid-friendly”:

  • Biological Sex – When a baby is born, they are assigned a sex, for example: male or female, usually based on one’s private parts. This gets written on one’s birth certificate. (It is important to note that a person’s sex is actually “combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.”)
  • Gender Identity – This is how a person feels “inside” about their gender. Most people identify their gender as one of two choices, either a boy/man or girl/woman. Transgender people feel like who they are on the inside is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. For some people, their gender identity may not fit easily into one of these two choices.
  • Gender Expression – This is the way one shows one’s gender. It can take the form of one’s “name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics.” Characteristics that are associated with gender are described as masculine (like a boy/man) or feminine (like a girl/woman). Different cultures define masculine and feminine differently. This also changes over time. For example, a long time ago, in Western European culture, pink was considered a boy (or masculine) color. Typically, transgender people want to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Sexual Orientation – This term describes a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to other people. This is usually defined as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning. As stated above, gender identity and sexual orientation are NOT the same.

For more resources for talking about transgender discrimination see these links:

  • Go to the GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program website for FAQs, Tips and Resources for Allies.
  • This link provides more definitions for terms in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a helpful video on common terms as defined by members of this community themselves. (It’s a great resource for parents or educators concerned about “explaining it right”).
  • Read this story, A Boy’s Life, the story of an eight year old transgender girl.
  • Read about and watch this awesome rap about transgender acceptance by kids at at Camp Aranu’tiq. Or, watch it below:

Alex’s rap about transgender acceptance – at Camp Aranu’tiq 2014

This post is definitely just the tip of the iceberg and there are many, many more resources, links and ideas to share. Please help me by listing them in the comments below! 

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