RE: Transgender Students in Public Schools  

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions:

We, the board of Faith in America, are writing to publicly implore you to heed the guidance of your Secretary of Education regarding the draft executive order regarding transgender students in public schools.  In fighting not to overturn the current protections, it’s clear that Secretary DeVos recognizes the severe risk faced by transgender youth each day they travel the halls of the schools for which she has been tasked with providing oversight.  

The stigma attached to transgender identity creates a profound public health crisis for these kids.  One-in-four transgender youth attempt suicide and at least half struggle with suicidal ideation.  And, they are 8x more likely to succeed at taking their own lives than their straight peers.  A rule that focuses on whether this is a matter for the states or federal government misses the point. Historically, civil rights have not been adequately protected by “state’s rights.”  In fact, a “states rights” strategy has aided and abetted opportunities for bad actors in the religious community to discriminate, or encourage discrimination, within the public.

The first question we must be asking is whether we are keeping our kids safe, and that must be the lens through which we decide whether states or the federal government are better at doing so.  The canard that these laws protect a young woman from having perverted men in the bathroom or locker room is extremely misleading. There are laws against indecent exposure and harassment.  In all the media hoopla, there is little mention of the real needs of these vulnerable transgender youths.  Who will protect them?  We must.  Recent studies show dramatic decline in suicide rates among LGBT kids prior to Obergefell in states that passed marriage laws compared to those that did not. Certainly, this is an indication why we need to tackle these issues as a nation, rather than allow piecemeal protections by states. 

Such sobering statistics are well accounted for by the Meyers Minority Status Stress Model which recognizes the role stigma plays in inordinately higher rates of suicide, homelessness, serious mental illness and substance use disorders.  Fear of discrimination and violence are legitimate concerns on the part of the Secretary.  Research supports that 65% of these students encounter derogatory terms such as “faggot” or “dyke” on a daily basis, 85% have been verbally harassed in the last year, and 30% have missed at least one day of school due to feeling unsafe. 

The insufficiency of the additional verbiage the Secretary of Education resigned herself to, “Schools must ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to learn in a safe environment,” grossly fails to grasp the unique challenges to safety these students face each day.  For this reason we ask in the strongest possible terms:  if you decide to replace the protections enacted by the previous administration for LGBT kids in our public schools, please ensure that they are replaced with measures that will be applied nation-wide and serve the protections of our transgender youth with commensurate force. 

Sincerely,

Mitchell Gold

Robert Hoffman

Sherri Jaquays

Roberta Kaplan

Kris Perry

Shannon Price Minter

Sandy Stier

Howard Vine

Phil Wells

Bob Williams

Chely Wright

Board of Directors, Faith in America