Opinion: Don’t erase Decatur’s protections for transgender students

Linda Ellis, second from right, wants families of trans children to have the same sense of security her family — sons John and Sam and partner Lesley — enjoys.

Linda Ellis is the executive director of the Health Initiative, an organization supporting the health of LGBT Georgians. She and her partner Lesley live in Decatur and are parents to two sons, John, 19, and Sam, 15.

In this piece, Ellis talks about how her own marriage, family and life have become fairly typical as more Americans accept gay unions. She and her wife are regular community and school volunteers. Their boys are active teens with a range of friends and interests. They have peace and normalcy in their daily lives, says Ellis.

Ellis says she wants that same peace for transgender children and their parents in Decatur and throughout the country. City Schools of Decatur has a longstanding policy protecting trans students and respecting their chosen gender identify. However, the policy came under fire at a recent school board meeting from two parents and an attorney, and now a petition is attempting to undo the protections.

City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude added the rainbow flag to his Facebook photo after the district’s transgender policies were criticized.

The petition maintains, “Many transgender activist groups insist that transgender students be treated in every respect as the gender they identify with, and not by their biological sex. We insist that there are areas in the education system where anatomical sex must be the sole distinctive trait considered. In these areas, gender identity is not interchangeable with sex.” The petition says those areas are athletics, locker rooms and bathrooms.

While Decatur Superintendent David Dude did not respond to the critics at the board meeting, he signaled his support for trans students and Decatur’s policy by adding the rainbow flag — adopted by LGBT communities as a symbol — to his Facebook profile.

An organized effort is underway to show support for Decatur’s policy by asking citizens sign a pledge that states, “These protections—that transgender students be addressed by their proper pronouns and be allowed to participate equally in school activities—have been in place for more than 10 years, making our school district a nationwide leader when it comes to ensuring that transgender students don’t have to face discrimination at school.”

The school board plans to discuss the policy at its Oct. 10 meeting. With that background, here is the column by Ellis.

By Linda Ellis

Years ago, a theology professor of mine suggested that one meaning of the Hebrew word, Shalom, was normalcy. At first hearing, that definition didn’t seem go with my understanding of its better known meaning, “peace.” But over time, I have learned to appreciate and value the radical peace that exists in normalcy. Normalcy is wholeness, it is fitting in your space, it is finding everything as it is supposed to be.

As a lesbian couple raising a family, my partner Lesley and I have been lucky enough to create a good, normal life.  We have lived in the city of Decatur since 2003.  Our sons have made their way through Decatur’s schools from pre-K to high school. They are both good students who (in our parental opinions) could be even better ones if they tried a little harder.  Along the way, they’ve both developed friendships and found their way into clubs and activities that fit their individual interests. As a family, we are active members of a church here in town.  We’re as involved in our community as our busy schedules allow.

We’ve volunteered, coached sports teams (Lesley) and served on city committees and boards (me). Our day-to-day life looks much like that of our neighbors, largely because it is. We all go to work, make sure that the bills get paid, the grass gets cut and dinner gets put on the table. This is our normal. And for us, this is shalom.

But the peace that comes with normalcy wasn’t guaranteed when Lesley and I had our commitment service in 1991. It was a difficult and frightening time for us. People we loved and cared for, as well as many we only casually knew (and some we didn’t know at all) could not understand or accept our relationship. They knew few lesbian or gay people, they thought we were wrong, and we scared them.

We didn’t get to normal easily. It required a willingness to sit down and take some risks on both sides.  Our straight family and friends had to be open to educating themselves about our experience. We had to be patient with their questions. And we all had to be willing to sit with the discomfort of a relationship in progress.  Together, we worked to clarify misconceptions and stick with each other when mistakes were made and feelings were hurt.

Through the years, we’ve gotten closer and closer to the normalcy we’ve sought. Our world isn’t perfect – there’s still the occasional awkward question about roles or the raised eyebrow when someone learns that my partner is my wife, rather than husband — but for the most part, we’re just another set of parents volunteering in the football game concession stand, along with all the other band boosters.

Today, the steep learning curve that most of us face is not understanding sexual orientation, but gender identity. Transgender individuals are pushing those of us who are cisgender to understand and accept their experience as right and good alongside our own. There are new words to be learned, and old concepts to be turned upside down. There are some risks to take on both sides and there are many questions.  I know – because I’ve asked a lot of them.

Honestly, questions of gender identity were new ones for me — it just wasn’t my world. But as I stretch myself to understand and appreciate the experiences of transgender adults, adolescents and children who don’t fit our preconceived categories of gender, and their parents, I recognize in them a familiar desire for normalcy.

Some families of trans kids are almost afraid to hope that normalcy will be possible for their children. Their fear is not because there is something innately wrong with their kids, but because of us — because they see us react so often out of fear and ignorance in a way that does real harm to their children. The research regarding trans children and youth is not easy to read. Article after article measures challenges to mental health, increased anxiety and suicide risks, and the impacts of bullying and harassment.  The worry is real.  If you need to convincing, just google “Ally Steinfeld, 17, Missouri.

Yet, there is hope in the evidence that even the smallest interventions and offers of support significantly improve the outcomes for trans youth. The research shows that trans youth experiencing strong social support are significantly less likely to act upon suicidal thoughts, and that something as simple as being able to safely use the bathroom at school decreases bullying and makes for a greater feeling of overall safety for trans students.

But as I write this, some here in Decatur are challenging our school system’s long-standing nondiscrimination policy, and the school superintendent’s guidance on how to comply with that policy, that allows transgender students and their parents to choose the accommodations that suit them best. They have hired an attorney to help them make their case and have publicly stated their fears include transgender girls having an unfair advantage in sporting events or that trans girls using the girls bathroom might be offensive to some whose cultural and religious beliefs require modesty. My guess is that these families have other concerns that they’ve not voiced, and my concern is that hiring an attorney may not be the best way to open a conversation.

I know it will take more than credible research and board sanctioned policies to build a bridge to normalcy.  As I learned with my own family and friends, transforming “other” to “normal” takes courage, patience and a willingness to listen with an open heart.

It might start by sitting down and having a conversation with the parent of a trans kids. That’s what I did.  They are my neighbors (and yours).  They tell me that, for their kids, being called by the right name or being able to use the bathroom that fits their identity has been life-changing. They’ve seen grades improve, behavior problems and social anxiety decrease, and friendships develop. The focus shifts from rushing home after “holding it” all day at school, to staying after to try out for the volleyball team.

As parents, we all want the same things for our kids. Even if we have different understandings of politics or faith, I believe we all can agree that we want our kids to have the best possible opportunities. We want them to feel supported and accepted as they are, to strive to fulfill their potential, to find happiness, to be kind, and to contribute to the world around them. We want them to have a chance at a good, normal life.

We want shalom.

 

Reader Comments 0

72 comments
jefgee
jefgee

As can be seen in my comments elsewhere, I'm fully in favor of supporting and welcoming transgender students and honoring their gender identity and accommodating their needs. I'm also in favor of accommodating the needs of those who are less understanding of or accepting of non-traditional concepts of gender. 

All students (and parents) should be expected to treat each other with civility and respect. (And encouraged to go beyond that to compassion and humility and grace.) But those students who are uncomfortable with transgender students in the bathrooms and locker rooms could surely be allowed access to more private facilities. Rather than refusing trans students the right to opt in, those who fear them should be allowed to opt out. 

The sports situation is a little more complicated. For example, a transgender female  who has recently transitioned is likely to have a male physique which could confer an unfair advantage in certain female sports situations. (Perhaps the opposite is true as well--ftm trans students having an advantage in some male sports?) It may also run afoul of GHSA regulations. It might take a while to get this one right. The fact that it's complicated doesn't mean we should resort to the old ways of exclusion, however. 

It would be nice if everyone, regardless of their position could discuss and debate in good faith and give each other the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to conclusions about negative intentions. I struggle with this, and it seems others do as well.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Years ago, when the homosexual advocates first began pushing their agenda, they said the government shouldn't worry about what they did in the privacy of their own bedrooms.  They kept adding and adding to their demands and we have arrived where we are today where the LBGT perverts not only want mainstream America to accept their pathology, but they want the taxpayers to fund it and in the case of California, they have now criminalized non-acceptance of "gender identity".

So, let's recap.  Race is a "social construct", age is just a number, gender is what you want it to be.  What's next?  There is no such thing as species?

Oh, wait, Google "man marries dog".

jefgee
jefgee

@Lee_CPA2 I know you were trying to make a reductio ad adsurdum argument, but in fact species IS a construct. Google it.

Gina Barcourt
Gina Barcourt

there's really nothing to understand. you're either a male or female. Don't know which? Check your genitalia of birth.

jefgee
jefgee

Don't make the mistake of assuming your confidence in your opinion makes it factual.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

I'm for don't ask, don't tell. I don't really care.

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Lynn Smith because YAH is not a god of confusion. Be created man and woman for each other. Not that you will see that with your warped mind, it's eotherva mental condition or people are just being disobedient to his laws concerning what's man and what's woman. Do you see any other species doing what the top of the food chain id doing? If they can keep YAH'S law,why can't we as humans?

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

Did you stop to consider that god made those people too and perhaps it is between them and god and neither requires your judgement nor condemnation. If you really believe in god, let him handle it. How is name calling and putting people down in line with your religion? How does it help anybody? As far as other animals your statement is not factual, it is also a non sequitur because humans are far more complex than other animals.

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Read romans chapt 1 then come back with that lie you just told on him. Answer my question first. Do yoy see animals acting as humans do? If you can't answer it just say so but don't come to me with what you or any other man think.

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

You literally make no sense and obviously are so full of hate and anger that having any kind of meaningful dialogue is not possible. I wish you well and may your god heal whatever pain has caused you such bitterness.

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

Your inability to understand Gina Barcourt is not a reflection of my comments, but your ignorance. Turning notices off for this post. It is a waste of time to engage with those who have no desire to understand and no compassion for others.

Mark Hesselgrave
Mark Hesselgrave

Lynn Smith, don’t waste your time on this Rasta bigot. His bible’s not proof of anything. It’s a fairy tale.

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Mark Hesselgrave i'm not s bigot, i'm a realist if you nor that other pervert will not read that you will be destryoed from the rest of us that are living by the bible that's fine with me just don't come in on a conversation that you can't add anything to but insults. Now good by pervert.

Mark Hesselgrave
Mark Hesselgrave

^^ “Insults,” says the moron calling people perverts.

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Did'nt even tead your post because I told you good by.

Traci Burrell
Traci Burrell

Are you talking about the god who supports slavery? Of selling off of daughters? Who is okay with genocide?

Traci Burrell
Traci Burrell

So you should be condemning the fixing of cleft palettes? If missing or defective heart valves? Or organs on the outside of the bodies? Club feet? God made all those too....

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

I just don't get where the anger and nastiness is coming from in so many of these comments. If you don't believe there is such a thing as being transgender then what is the problem? You can't catch something that doesn't exist and even if it were a mental illness, you can't catch that either. What bloody difference does it make in your life what somebody else does with their body. How about some compassion and decency for your fellow human beings regardless of gender, gender identity, etc. What are you trying to accomplish with all the name calling?

Mark Hesselgrave
Mark Hesselgrave

They’re all Trump-voting deplorables. They pollute AJC pages.

Mark Adkins
Mark Adkins

^^ And here's the root of the problem. Straight to name calling and not wanting other opinions expressed.

Tabitha Lynn
Tabitha Lynn

Alec Eubanks They're/There/Their are not interchangeable. They all have specific meanings. You should have said "They're sick in the head."

Wanda Brown Westmoreland
Wanda Brown Westmoreland

No it is only nuts who can just take a look at the anatomy and automatically know the gender.

Tabitha Lynn
Tabitha Lynn

Awww. Someone marked my comment as spam. How cute. People who want an echo chamber are sad.

Donna Lord Webb
Donna Lord Webb

So very sad to see all of negative comments here, from the ignorant, misinformed.

Brian Sutton
Brian Sutton

If you think that there is more than 2 genders then you are ignorant and misinformed!!

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Brian Sutton show us the other genders, if there are more than 2. Lies won't cover being a pervert.

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

Ignorant and misinformed I can forgive, but for the life of me I cannot understand the need for some of these people to be so nasty! It's god this and god that with no thought at all as to their behavior. It makes me sad that some people have no inclination to understand and no compassion.

Brian Sutton
Brian Sutton

Ucal Yisrael can you even read and comprehend the English language?? I said that there are only 2 genders, Einstein!! 1. Male 2. Female

Craig Jones Sr.
Craig Jones Sr.

You are either male or female and it’s determined by genetics. You have male chromosomes or female, can’t change that.

Tabitha Lynn
Tabitha Lynn

What about those who are born with both male and female sexual organs?

Craig Jones Sr.
Craig Jones Sr.

Tabitha Lynn that would be hermaphroditism. The chromosomes would determine male or female, genitalia would not.

Gina Barcourt
Gina Barcourt

Jessa Nichole Phillips explain the difference and when it occurred ? Cause for eons they've been the same

Traci Burrell
Traci Burrell

Actually you are wrong. I have a friend who is XY who is completely female from birth. Hormones and the endocrine system count for more than genetics. You might want to do more research. Ignorance is not bliss... Just ignorance.

Brian Sutton
Brian Sutton

There is only 2 genders! Male and Female

BUTERRIERHOCKEY
BUTERRIERHOCKEY

people are sick and tired of this issue. stop shoving it in our faces. be what you want to be but do not pester the majority of us who do not give a squirrel. Manners and common sense do not coincide with this mentally disturbed group. They need help, not protection. Their actions and thinking are not normal.

Astropig
Astropig

@BUTERRIERHOCKEY


Right-o.Amen. I'm sick of this being shoved in my face day after soul sucking day for years on end.If these students or their families feel like they have been done wrong,they have resort to the courts and civil action.

It's so tiring to hear "we're just like everybody else" to a fare-thee-well and then read the gory details of their physical relationships.Who the heck cares what they do or who they do it with?

jefgee
jefgee

@BUTERRIERHOCKEY How is it being shoved in your face? Are you a student or parent of City Schools of Decatur? Feel free to look away if you don't like what you're seeing or reading. 

Who cares if it's "normal"?  It's normal for people to having functioning arms and legs too, but some people don't. Should we ostracize them for being abnormal instead of accommodating their needs?

It's normal (unfortunately) for people to be rude and bigoted about things they don't understand. Should we pursue the "normal" response in exceptional situations or try to act like open-minded thoughtful grownups?

Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

Linda Ellis is full of c r a p - while I believe there are transgender people in the world they do not know they are THAT different until they reach at least age 21.  Sure, they know they are different yet until they experience "life" they really do not know anything, and parents who encourage this "phenomenon", especially in younger children, are also full of c r a p and should be handled as child abusers.  At least IMHO this is the case, and this is not a biblical issue from me, it's a common sense issue....

bu22
bu22

@Surelyyoujest  What this editorial is saying is that you should erase the privacy protections for females (and males) and should put them at a disadvantage in sports.  The editorial completely ignores the 50% in favor of the 1/10 of 1%.  And it is also trying to define as "normal" something that is really equivalent to anorexia, a case of someone not being satisfied with their body and taking extreme measures to change it.