Transgender conversations begin at Decatur schools

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City Schools of Decatur hosts first discussion on equal education policy

 More than 40 parents, teachers, students and community stakeholders spoke for more than four hours at an Oct. 10 City Schools of Decatur (CSD) board of education meeting regarding transgender students.

 Under its current equal education policy—also known as Policy JAA—CSD instructs teachers to not discriminate based on gender identity. For example, a student who identifies as female—regardless of the sex assigned at birth—is to be treated the same as any other female student. This includes female pronouns, restrooms, locker rooms, sports and field trip lodgings.

 “The leadership shown by [this policy] gives faith and courage to the children who fear—we need to continue that,” said resident Tom Stubbs. “In history, we know the oppression of any group leads to longstanding problems. This policy is on the side of love and support for children at the most tumultuous time in their years. It’s on the side of history, the side of facts—it’s on the right side. Please stay there.”

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 On Sept. 14, during the public comment portion of CSD’s board of education meeting, three speakers denounced the district’s equal education policy, stating it does not consider all parents and students. Less than one week later, the board announced it would discuss the issue at its October meeting.

 The meeting consisted of an informational work session and more than two hours of public comment.

 During the work session, Presbyterian minister Erin Swenson and Georgia State University sociology and public health professor Eric Wright discussed what it means to be transgender as well as the challenges they face.

 According to Wright, transgendered individuals face high risk of alcohol abuse, tobacco use, bullying, depression and high suicide rates typically caused by social stigmas. He said an official written policy has proved to help individuals curb such trials.

 During the public comment portion, the majority of speakers spoke in favor of CSD’s current policy. They shared stories of students’, personal strife and challenges, as well as the support they receive from the district and community.

 One transgender student, who credited her mental stability to CSD’s support, said it is not unusual for critics of the district policy to desire change in something they do not understand.

 “Despite what some people may say, I am a real girl,” she said. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at City Schools of Decatur, it’s that people should be proud of who they are. Well, I’m proud of who I am. The [proposal to change CSD’s policy] is threatening the rights of transgender students and telling them they’re not allowed to be who they are. People may want to change the system because people don’t understand me and people like me. People are normally afraid when they see something they don’t understand. It’s OK to be afraid; that’s a human reaction. I’m standing up here in front of a room full of people and I am quaking in my white converse [sneakers]. But no matter how scared you are, how much you don’t know this uncertain territory, it’s not OK to deprive students of their rights just for that reason.”

 Parents of transgender and cisgender students alike shared stories of triumph and success, much credited to the Decatur community’s support—CSD included. They credited the district policy—which has been in place for more than a decade and never been an issue—as one that epitomizes the city’s ethos.

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 A small group of people—some of whom are not residents of Decatur or DeKalb County—urged the board to consider drafting a more encompassing policy and not forget other pressing issues.

 Norcross resident Garland Hunt called the notion of gender identity and pandering to its notions preposterous. He said the district’s views are in the interest of the minority rather than the majority of parents.

 “The propensities of a very few should not affect, influence or confuse the general student population of innocent minors attempting to receive a public education,” Hunt said. “They should not be forced to be exposed to [those experiencing] sexual confusion about their gender.”

 Similar comments came from Dave Baker, executive director of Faith & Freedom Coalition of Georgia.

 “Every fall, we have the powder puff football game, where cheerleaders go out and play touch football and the boys football team comes to the sidelines, shakes the pom-poms and everyone has a great time,” Baker said. “But that’s the only time that any of us—parents, boys, girls—want the boys on the girls’ cheerleading team and none of us want the boys in the girls’ locker room.”

 Tony Miles said he does not agree with the current policy as it relates to privacy for his children and parental rights. Miles said he would appreciate parents having a say in any policy as it relates to students and that parent have the right to teach their children about sensitive issues.

 “This should not be decreed or issued through a memo, but should be vetted through the school board with due notice and input from the community,” Miles said.

 Others felt the policy had too much gray area to enforce. One speaker said male students in female locker rooms and vice versa conflicts with existing sexual harassment laws.

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 “It’s about protecting the rights of all students, not just protecting the LGBTQ community,” she said.

 Gena Major, who spoke on Sept. 14, said she created a petition requesting the board be transparent and considerate of protecting the privacy of all students and review its policy, as many parents weren’t aware of the current policy.

 Both sides agreed they wished to facilitate for the safety, support and education of all district students.

 The board announced its intent to review CSD’s current discrimination policy at approximately 10:30 p.m. after public input.

 The policy mirrors a federal mandate that was recently rescinded by the Department of Justice. Via his blog, Dude wrote in February 2017 that he wished to create local policy in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as president. In the post, CSD superintendent David Dude said nothing had changed and that CSD will continue to not discriminate based on gender identity.

 “We support the superintendent’s instructions to staff regarding transgender students,” reads an official statement issued after the meeting. “We also recognize there are members of our community with questions and privacy concerns that need to be addressed. Over the next several months, we will be participating in community events offering learning opportunities in this area. We will be gathering input from the community on our policy; and we will be reviewing our current policy to consider potential changes to further our goal of ensuring that all students feel safe, supported and valued.”

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