There was not an actual emergency at a Stafford County, Virginia, middle school last week. But had there been one, a transgender girl could have been in serious danger, according to an account shared by a local LGBT parents group.
According to Equality Stafford—which serves LGBT parents, students, and allies in Stafford County Public Schools—a lockdown drill was initiated at a local middle school while one transgender student was in her physical education class.
The boys were told to go to the boys’ locker room, Equality Stafford claims, and the girls to the girls’ locker room—but the transgender student, herself a girl, reportedly could not join the latter group because the teachers were not sure “where she should go.”
“The student was forced to watch the adults charged with her care debate the safest place (for the other students) to have her shelter,” Equality Stafford wrote. “During this debate, she was instructed to sit in the gym with a teacher until the drill was complete, away from her peers and identified as different.”
Equality Stafford further alleges that the student was then “made to sit in the locker room hallway” after the teachers wrapped up some “additional debate” on the subject.
In response to questions from The Daily Beast about the incident—and about why it would be necessary to separate students according to gender during an emergency situation—Stafford County Public Schools did not provide further detail, saying through a spokesperson that they do not “comment on individual student incidents to avoid divulging confidential information.”
“However, the new superintendent has requested a review of all protocols and procedures including security to ensure that all children are treated with dignity and respect,” the spokesperson added. “We take such matters very seriously and they will be addressed. The welfare of all students is of the utmost importance for SCPS.”
Equality Stafford told The Daily Beast, “The family prefers to not be public at this time out of concern for safety for their daughter.”
Given the current situation for transgender youth in the United States, safety might indeed be a concern.
The Stafford County, Virginia incident comes less than two months after the family of a 12-year-old transgender girl named Maddie had to move away from Achille, Oklahoma after violent threats were made over her use of a girls’ restroom.
Although the Obama administration issued guidance to schools instructing them to allow transgender students to use facilities matching their gender, the Trump administration rescinded that guidance in February 2017.
As The Daily Beast has previously reported, the Department of Education appears to be ignoring many reports of anti-transgender discrimination since that time. However, individual school districts are still free to protect transgender students.
Equality Stafford has urged the local community not to see the teachers in the Stafford County incident as “the bad guys” given their lack of “guidance for these issues.”
“Teachers are often afraid of retribution by other parents or [by the] administration which causes confusion,” the group noted in a follow-up Facebook post.“These teachers need education and support and we need you to accomplish that.”
That’s why the LGBT organization is planning to cite the incident to request major reforms at an SCPS board meeting on Tuesday evening.
According to the group’s Facebook event for the board meeting, they will make three requests: requiring LGBT training “for all school staff,” adding LGBT-inclusive language to the non-discrimination policy, and creating gay-straight alliances (or GSAs) at each middle and high school.
Such recommendations are largely in line with what GLSEN, the largest national group serving LGBT students, recommends.
GLSEN research suggests that GSAs “may help to make schools safer for LGBT students by sending a message that biased language and harassment will not be tolerated.” One of GLSEN’s major priorities is encouraging school districts to specifically enumerate gender identity and sexual orientation as protected characteristics in their anti-bullying policies.
The majority of states do not have anti-bullying laws that list both categories—in fact, only 14 do, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Virginia, as MAP notes, has “no law protecting LGBT students.”
At a time when transgender people are still falsely seen as a threat to others, LGBT advocates see the incident in Stafford County, Virginia as a painfully ironic one. GLSEN research suggests that up to 75 percent of transgender students feel “unsafe” at school—and yet they are still seen as a threat to the safety of those around them.
Or, as Equality Stafford put it, “During an event that prepares children to survive an attack by actual assailants, she was treated as if she was so much of a danger to peers that she was left exposed and vulnerable.”