Opinion: Education secretary says adults take cue from students

This week’s writer is Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe.
A recent decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed thattransgender students should be able to use the bathroom that is consistentwith their gender identity.
This is the right decision. I think of a family friend who spends every dayworrying about whether his transgender child will still be alive at the endof each day. I think about some of the young transgender Vermonters I havemet, who struggled with anger and frustration, until they were able totransition to an identity that fit their knowledge of themselves, and allowedthem to live a coherent life. I think of parents of transgender children whosay simply: “My child just wants to live and be happy.”
What all these people have in common is a desire that their children, likeother children, feel safe to bethemselves, whoever they are, and not afraidthat their identity will cause other people to do them harm. That is a core right of all our Vermont students. No Vermonter should fear that his or heridentity — whether sexual, racial, linguistic or cultural — should leadothers to do him or her harm.
I spoke with an educator recently who has been a longtime proponent ofequity.Ethically and intellectually, she says, she knows the ruling is right and isthe only way to support and protect the rights of this vulnerable group. Shealso acknowledged that she is struggling with it personally, and that thefact she is struggling makes her uncomfortable.
I share that as a way of acknowledging that even as we work to ensure everystudent feels safe, supported and valued, we have to acknowledge that makingthis change is calling on a lot of us, including our educators, to move outof our comfort zones and ask some difficult questions about how ourassumptions about gender shape — not always for the better — the lives ofsome of our students.
Change is hard, and our schools are at the forefront of this change. Ourpublic schools, more than any other institution, are tasked with forcing usto have the hard conversations about what it means and what it looks like to live in a pluralist democracy that is working toward shared goals. We lovethem and we hate them, because they are vehicles for our aspirations, as wellas reflections of our challenges.
Issues like this put our schools and our educators on the front lines,working to figure out how to navigate this world. They are challenged to dothe brave thing and stand up for this vulnerable group in the face of occasional fear and vitriol from people who don’t agree or don’tunderstand. Our children are actually ahead of us on this issue, as therecent demonstration at Green Mountain Union High School suggests. Studentsthere walked out in support of a transgender peer. Many adults may need totake their cue from the students on this, and grow and change, even thoughchange is not easy.

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