A companion to the “Dear Colleague Letter” released by the Obama administration last spring, which directed public schools to make necessary changes to protect the civil rights of transgender students, was a document called “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students.” This extensive document is organized in a question and answer format and includes best practices from school districts across the country. It is an invaluable resource for educators wishing to advocate for LGBTQ students on the policy level.
But, as I wrote in Part I, practice does not necessarily follow policy. Many times policy changes are prompted by specific circumstances with specific students. Sometimes, when educators are tolerant of the ever-changing needs of students, practice can precede policy. More often than not, however, practice needs the encouragement of policy, along with a healthy dose of education relating to emerging practices.
Such is the case in Oklahoma, where fifteen (or more) school districts now include nondiscrimination protection for both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity/expression.” Furthermore, as far back as 2011, Oklahoma transgender students Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews were receiving national attention and have both released memoirs, “Rethinking Normal” (Hill) and “Some Assembly Required” (Andrews). Much work has already been done to advocate for LGBTQ students in Oklahoma, and much work still remains.
Educators in districts such as Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Union, Mid-Del, Owasso, Stillwater, Ponca City, Shawnee, Durant, Collinsville, Grove, Glenpool, Bristow, Cleveland, and Okemah now have the backing of a nondiscrimination policy to openly advocate for LGBTQ students. In other words, in these districts, it is policy that it is acceptable for students to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, or otherwise. A policy of nondiscrimination is a policy of acceptance.
Policy in the above mentioned districts implies, for instance, that anti-gay hate speech is no less inflammatory than racially motivated hate speech. There is a sense of equivalency applied to all that is included in “nondiscrimination.” Teachers and administrators in these districts need to know that if they hold a religious and/or political belief that views variations in sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression as anything other than completely acceptable, such beliefs are in conflict with district policy and therefore must not inform instruction, relationships with students, or any other school practice.
LGBTQ issues are non-debatable in classrooms of districts with inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Space should be made in all classrooms (especially Social Studies classrooms) for student expression of a variety of opinions on numerous civic and political issues. There are certain opinions, however, that should not be allowed to be heard, opinions that disparage people for their “race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, gender, gender expression or identity, religion, veteran status, sexual orientation, disability, age, or genetic information.” (from the Mid-Del nondiscrimination policy)