For many LGBT youth, bullying is more than the occasional mean taunt in the hallway. The bully can be the principal who refuses to call a trans teen by the right pronoun. Bullying can mean being barred from the bathroom. And now queer kids have an even bigger bully to fear: the one about move into the White House.
Under the Obama administration, there has been steady improvements in LGBT protections in schools, including policy directives supporting bathroom-access accommodations for transgender students and anti-bullying programs focused on LGBT youth.
But all of that progress is now in jeopardy as Donald Trump prepares to take office next week. In a sign of his approach to education, Trump has named education-privatization advocate Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education. DeVos has alarmed activists with her track record of promoting charter schools and Christian conservative causes.
But whatever federal education authorities do to strengthen LGBT protections (as the Obama administration has done) or to undermine them—as many fear DeVos will attempt—rights advocates say that the future of LGBT youth rights will depend on how local communities proactively work to foster a more inclusive school culture.
According to Human Rights Watch’s report on LGBT youth struggles in five states (Alabama, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and South Dakota), while federal protections have proven an essential safeguard for youth facing abuse and systematic discrimination, many remain vulnerable to violence.
Everyday violence and oppression reinforce each other in schools. Abuse takes many forms: blocking a trans student from using the gender-appropriate locker room, being called a slur by a bigoted teacher every day in class. In some heavily religious communities, kids are subtly shamed by the imposition of daily school prayer. A parent might be forced to withdraw a child from school because of a campaign of rape threats on social media. Students of color may be even more at risk, as racist school discipline policies may intersect with anti-LGBT harassment and push a youth into the juvenile justice system.
Kevin I, a 17 year-old transgender boy in Utah, was stunned to see his school staff aligning with his tormentors. He told researchers: