Teach the Children…and the Adults

England Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke recently announced that “the starting point” for sentencing by judges in the murder of people with disabilities and transpeople would be doubled from 15 to 30 years.

That’s the same starting point for sentences for murders in which race, religion or sexual orientation is an aggravating factor.

The proposal is part of the government’s first strategy to tackle transgender prejudice in England and Wales. The equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, said the strategy included support for transgender pupils in schools, measures to tackle discrimination in accessing public services and greater steps to protect transgender people’s privacy, including not having their transgender identity revealed at work without their consent.

Featherstone said the first transgender equality plan was needed because statistics showed that 70% of children who were uncertain about their gender were subject to bullying. The official figures also show that 88% of transgender employees experienced discrimination or harassment at work, and that hate crime against transgender people had recently risen by 14% to 357 incidents last year.

Wingers everywhere are aghast.  Typically they are totally opposed to children understanding what it means to be a bully towards gender-variant kids and that such behavior is wrong.  Irate leaders of parent groups call such worries “adult issues” which should not be discussed until children are older.

The appropriate reference from the report is this, as far as I can determine:

Support schools with updated, clear and concise guidance on the implementation of the public sector Equality Duty, which includes gender reassignment as one of the protected characteristics.

For those who might agree with keeping silent in the face of bullying of transgender children, I offer It’s Okay to be Neither, by Melissa Bollow Tempel.  A first grade teacher in Milwaukee, WI, Ms. Tempel had to decide how to respond when a gender-variant child arrived in her class.

Allison was biologically a girl but felt more comfortable wearing Tony Hawk long-sleeved T-shirts, baggy jeans, and black tennis shoes. Her parents were accepting and supportive. Her mother braided her hair in cornrows because Allie thought it made her look like Will Smith’s son, Trey, in the remake of The Karate Kid. She preferred to be called Allie. The first day of school, children who hadn’t been in Allie’s class in kindergarten referred to her as “he.”

Melissa contacted Allie’s mother and spoke to Allie about how she should respond to the other children,

“Um . . .tell them that I am a girl.”

The next day when I corrected classmates and told them that Allie was a girl, they asked her a lot of questions that she wasn’t prepared for: “Why do you look like a boy?” “If you’re a girl, why do you always wear boys’ clothes?” Some even told her that she wasn’t supposed to wear boys’ clothes if she was a girl. It became evident that I would have to address gender directly in order to make the classroom environment more comfortable for Allie and to squash the gender stereotypes that my 1st graders had absorbed in their short lives.

So Melissa had to develop a curriculum to address issues of gender.  SHe taught about “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys”, read them William’s Doll.

When a song based on William’s Doll was to be included in the 1974 TV movie Free to Be…You and Me, ABC made some requests of producer Marlo Thomas.

They wanted William Wants a Doll cut, because it would turn every boy in the world into a homosexual – which isn’t such a bad idea.  And the other issue was Parents Are People.  Harry Belafonte sang the man part and I sang the female part, and we were walking down Fifth Avenue pushing baby buggies and ABC said it wouldn’t play in the South.  It looked like we were married. …  Thankfully, That Girl was a hit on ABC at the time, so I had a little clout.  Both things stayed in.

-Marlo Thomas, Forward, May 28, 2004

Then I read Oliver Button Is a Sissy. In the book, Oliver is bullied because he prefers dancing to sports. The students quickly realized that this was not fair and empathized with Oliver Button.

The following day we read It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr. Parr’s books are quite popular in the primary grades because they include an element of humor and simple, colorful illustrations. We read:

It’s OK to wear glasses.

It’s OK to come from a different place.

It’s OK to be a different color.

Other media resources at available at Accepting Dad.

One doesn’t need to be an adult to see the need for discussion of these issues…preferably before the children’s parents teach them to be bigots.

1 comment

    • Robyn on December 24, 2011 at 12:10 am
      Author

    …sentient and sensitive, worthwhile human beings.  And it seems to me that if we might be, then it becomes no longer our responsibility to prove that we are, but the responsibility of those who would deny us equal legal and social standing in this society to prove that we are not.

    And if we might be deserving of equal rights and standing in the society, then it is time for end the generations of ill-treatment by teaching our children that we are.  That’s not going to harm those children and it may just do a world of good for gender-variant people.  

    I fail to see what would be wrong with that approach.

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