Chaz Bono doing the samba on Dancing with the Stars and Isis King posing fiercely on the All Stars cycle of America’s Next Top Model may mark the first time two positive transgender role models have broken through to the mainstream at the same time. That’s real progress for the widespread acceptance of the trans community, but not all trans people have the support that Chaz and Isis enjoy.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance we celebrate our transgender role models while remembering that members of the trans community are constantly targeted for harassment and violence. This year there have been eight reported murders of transgender individuals, and the violence continues against the trans youth in our schools. Gender variant students are regular targets for harassment by their fellow students.
According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), school is a real struggle for LGBT students. More than sixty percent have been verbally harassed at least once because of their gender expression, and more than a quarter reported frequent verbal harassment. More alarming is that twenty-seven percent had been physically harassed at school because of their gender expression; almost a tenth (8.7%) often or frequently.
GLSEN also reports that schools are getting better over the years and clubs like Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) are improving school climates. The It Gets Better Project has over 450,000 pledges to stop hate and violence and over 22,000 videos of individuals, organizations and celebrities proclaiming how life for queer youth can and will get better.
Our Student Rights Project focuses on stopping the unlawful bullying and harassment of students. We educate school officials on how to protect LGBT students and how to celebrate students for who they are and the communities they come from. The ACLU has been fighting for the protection and freedoms of all people, including in the sixties when it was illegal in Los Angeles for performers to dress as members of the “opposite sex.” Along side Sir Lady Java, who refused to give up her right to work and express herself, the ACLU fought the blatant transphobia of Rule Number 9.
As we reflect on the struggles of our trans community, it is crucial that we tackle the problems that are affecting trans youth. Bullying and harassment in schools continue to have adverse and catastrophic consequences on LGBT youth. Through our student rights project, the ACLU is working relentlessly to ensure that every students’ freedom of expression is protected and that all students can say that their school is a safe environment.