Letter: Gender-neutral

As local mental health professionals, we are writing to express our concern about the tone and content of several Facebook comments published in the Sept. 27 issue of The Current regarding the new inclusive bathroom policy at the Garrison School. We are concerned about the LGBTQIA+ young people in our community and dismayed by those who so easily dismiss their experiences.

Queer students face excessive bullying and harassment based on their sexual orientation and/or gender. According to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, 42 percent of LGBT youth say their communities are not accepting of LGBT people. LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to have been assaulted, kicked or shoved. Seventy percent of LGBTQ students nationwide report being bullied at school. Only 26 percent say they “always feel safe” in their classrooms, and just 5 percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people.

These numbers highlight the profound and painful rejection young people experience simply because of their identities — and we know that this type of rejection leads to a substantial increase in suicide risk. In a 2016 study in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 31 percent of LGBT youth reported suicidal behavior at some point in their life, compared with the national rate of 4.1 percent among all teenagers. According to another study, young people who experience frequent rejection from their parents during adolescence are over eight times more likely to report making a suicide attempt.

In our clinical work, we work with young people who sob in our offices, desperate to be known and understood, in agony over the lengths they must go to in order to hide themselves to remain safe. LGBTQIA+ youth experience rejection and bullying as a daily phenomenon that interferes with their ability to learn and grow. This is not about “liberals ruining the schools,” as one Facebook post asserted. The comments, attacks, and discrimination we hear about from young people are devastating. This is about children who desperately need representation, support, acceptance and equal treatment.

So, what can you do to help? Take time to listen and learn from LGBT youth. Be a role model for kindness and inclusion (see bit.ly/2C5l2ar). Create space for authenticity by showing young people they can be themselves around you. Talk about how there is no “one way” to be a boy or a girl, for example, and avoid making assumptions about a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. There are many ways to show your support and compassion.

Tracy Prout Bunye, Cold Spring

The letter was also signed by Mary Farkas, Robyn Garrett, Jenny Kaplan, Elyssa Kreimendahl, Marisa Mickel, Chaya Rubin and Jenny Williams.

One thought on “Letter: Gender-neutral

  1. The following comments were posted to The Current’s Facebook page in response to this letter. We have made occasional edits for brevity.

    Tara Vamos: I hope the letter helps more people understand, empathize and support policies like the Garrison School’s bathroom policy. Allowing people to use the facilities that match their gender identity is such an easy, painless step to make a child or adolescent’s life a little bit easier.

    Ned Farley: Utter nonsense. There are two sexes. End of story.

    Melinda Moyer: Intersex is a lot more common than I realized — I was surprised when I learned more about it. About 1 in 2,000 babies is born with genitals so notably intersex that a specialist team is called in; one in 300 is born with genitals different enough that a pediatrician refers parents to a specialist at some point. If you add up the variations in sex chromosomes, hormones, internal structures, etc., about 1 in 100 babies is born intersex, i.e., not a binary male or female.

    Janet Moon: These poor kids, loaded with adult issues. Let them be who they want, but don’t make it a label. My daughter (now grown) used to identify as a unicorn. Then she wanted to be a boy. Kids are fluid; stop weighing them down. If you have a penis, you pee in the boys’ room, even if you feel like a girl.

    Tracy Prout Bunye: I have young kids and work as a child psychologist, and I agree that kids do change their identities frequently. That said, kids struggling with gender identity are not the same as kids who say they are a unicorn one day and a boy the next. The children I have worked with have felt conflict with their gender identity for years. When you have a 6-year-old in your office who has tried to mutilate his genitalia or a teenager who has been disowned by her family because of her gender identity or sexual orientation, the simplicity of “let them be who they want” isn’t enough.

    Janet Moon: That’s so very sad. But I still feel bathrooms are not the arena for this to be addressed. It’s not shame-induced; it’s privacy. Not all kids want to have this discussion at 10-years-old, even at home with a safe person. They don’t want to be confronted with a genitalia conversation in school when they’re trying to develop egos and accept themselves in comparison to the norms set by society. Life is so stressful for children now. Sexuality is at the forefront of everything to them.

    Tracy Prout Bunye: The discomfort some children may feel is something we need to be attentive to and consider. Trans kids are in the minority and suffer much more than their cisgender peers. So, in cases where the suffering is unequal, it’s important that we consider ways we can protect the marginalized. Take, for example, a trans girl (born with male genitalia and chromosomes, but clearly identifying as female) who presents as very feminine — dresses, sparkly, glitter, etc. When this child is forced to use the boys’ bathroom, imagine how she feels when entering. Imagine what things are said to her by the boys in the bathroom. Now imagine — and this doesn’t require imagination for me, because I know this kid — her being thrown to the ground and pummeled by the boys inside a stall while they scream hate speech at her. Imagine her E.R. visit. Her terror at the thought of returning to school. Her growing awareness that she is truly hated. This is a kid who needs to use the girls’ bathroom. If the policy had been in place in her school, she would have entered the girls’ room discreetly (or even better, a gender-neutral bathroom), gone into a stall, sat down and peed, and left. Unharmed. Untraumatized.

    Cindy Hutchison: Thank you for such a thoughtful, well-informed and well-written letter. I am grateful that the Garrison School has enacted this inclusive policy. Much appreciation to all who extend compassion to individuals whose experience is different from their own.

    Judy Mclaughlin: It is not “unkind” to not want a biological boy to use a girls’ restroom. Why should a girl be subject to a boy in her bathroom? To be responsible — and, yes, it’s kind too — have a single bathroom for use by anyone. Anything else is not just irresponsible but pure leftist madness. LGTBQ children and adults should be encouraged to understand this is not an issue against them. It is OK to want separate bathrooms and still accept everyone as they are. Stop making them feel like victims and empower them in the right way. Everyone be yourselves, and everyone be kind.

    Emily Raitt: The term “gender-neutral” in this case is misleading. The school board passed a policy allowing kids who identify by the other gender to use locker rooms and go on overnight trips as that gender, as well as be called by another name. The letter is trying to group homosexuals and gender-identity issues in the same category. You cannot decide to be another gender. It is physically impossible. You cannot change a person’s chromosomes. Trying to make everyone get on the acceptance train is wrong. These kids have issues that need to be dealt with.

    Tracy Prout Bunye: You’re right, gender and sexuality aren’t the same thing, though they are often related and inform one another. Sex is based on genes and anatomy. Gender is subjective. All of us have our own gender identity — it is not only trans and gender-fluid folks. What does it mean to be a “woman”? It is likely different for you than for others. It is influenced by many factors but is often rigid in our minds because of sociocultural factors. This is a great topic to learn about if you are open to considering the real, lived experiences of your neighbors.