Delaware Proposal Would Out Trans Students

A fast-moving proposal in Delaware would force trans students to choose between sacrificing their civil rights at school or being forcibly outed to their parents — putting them at risk of parental rejection, abuse, or even homelessness.

Delaware Regulation 225 was supposed to provide essential anti-discrimination guidance to ensure that transgender students were treated with basic dignity in schools. An original draft of the regulation was widely supported by students, civil rights advocates, and teachers, and should have smoothed to passage in solid-blue Delaware. But then, under intense pressure from fear-mongering anti-trans activists, the state Education Department revised the proposal, adding a horrific “parental notification” provision.

The new regulation would require that schools “request permission from the parents” of any transgender student who requests an accommodation (like being called by a different name or pronoun). If a transgender student doesn’t want to forcibly outed, their school would be barred from granting them the accommodation.

Let’s be clear: outing transgender kids to unsupportive families could kill them.

If you don’t know many queer and trans young people, that might sound like hyperbole. But it’s a grim reality for the more than one in four transgender people report that immediate family members ended their relationship or stopped speaking to them after they came out. One in ten transgender people report experiencing violence from a family member.

Family rejection can be acutely painful for adults, even those of who can support themselves. But for a transgender high-school student, losing your family could also mean losing your home. A staggering forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ kids, when only an estimated seven percent of young people overall do. That means that today, in the United States, an estimated six hundred and forty thousand queer and trans kids are homeless, nearly half of whom ran away because their families refused to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many more were outright kicked out by their families. Outing transgender kids could leave them on the street — where they are chronically underserved by homeless shelters, which may also discriminate against transgender people.

Even if unsupportive families don’t kick their transgender kids to the curb, they can still do great harm. Some families will coerce kids into “conversion therapy,” a dangerous, discredited practice that purports to “cure” LGBTQ people. Conversion therapy is linked to higher rates of severe depression, anxiety, and suicide, especially for the young people pushed into a program that relentlessly hammers home the cruel idea that there’s something “wrong” with who they are. Sam Briton, a leading LGBTQ rights advocate, describes the conversion therapy they survived as “torture”:

The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.

Transgender students shouldn’t have to put themselves at risk of homelessness or conversion therapy just to assert their civil rights at school, where more than half of transgender students report they were prevented from using their true names or pronouns). But Delaware Regulation 225 would condition trans students’ ability rights on running that risk — so that students without parental support, who probably most need the support of their teachers, school, and classmates, are left out in the cold.

LGBTQ advocates have rightly pointed out that the proposed regulation would put Delaware’s transgender youth in extreme danger. To that, I’d add that parental notification provisions can also be deeply dehumanizing to transgender kids whose parents aren’t going to harm them, or even to young people whose parents might be fully supportive. Coming out is a uniquely personal thing — a powerful, painful, formative, scary, electrifying moment in which young people assert a fuller version of themselves. For queer and trans people, coming out on our own terms is a claim to personal autonomy, to our complete, authentic selves. To be forcibly outed by the state is to be denied that autonomy — it’s the state saying to a teenager “because you’re trans, we’re taking away your right to live authentically on your own terms.” It implicitly treats a young person’s self-knowledge as something shameful to be managed, not something beautiful to be celebrated. That, in and of itself, is also reason enough to stop this.

Oh, and by the way, the regulation probably illegal: many federal courts, including the Third Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Delaware) recognize that Title IX prohibits discrimination against transgender students. A policy that arbitrarily denies federal civil rights protections to transgender kids with unsupportive parents — or that puts transgender kids, and transgender kids only, in danger — could quickly run afoul of federal civil rights law. No one calls up a parent when “Jennifer” asks to be called “Jenny.” That only happens when he asks to be called “John.”

There’s still time to stop this. LGBTQ advocates are calling on Delaware Governor John Carney, who has supported and signed crucial trans rights bills in the past, to intervene and block the legislation. Are you from Delaware? Call the Governor to let him know that this regulation would undermine the dignity of Delaware’s transgender students. You can contact his office here.

Featured Image: National Center for Transgender Equality

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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