By J. G. Noll
Jess Girven is used to being told no. No, her daughter can no longer receive services at their base’s health clinic. No, there are no EFMP provisions for her daughter’s gender dysphoria. No, the military will not take her daughter’s safety into account when assigning her husband’s next set of orders. And two days ago: No, the White House will not uphold guidance on her child’s civil rights at school.
Girven’s daughter, Blue, is a transgender military kid.
How the guidance helped trans kids
This week, the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidelines from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Education (DoE) on transgender students’ rights in schools that receive federal funding. The guidelines stated schools’ obligations to transgender children under Title IX– a law requiring that federally funded schools cannot discriminate based on a student’s sex. “The guidance makes clear that both federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX,” a 2016 press release from the DoJ stated.
The guidance clarified that once a student (or their parents) notified the school of their transgender status, the school was required to treat the student consistent with their gender identity. Schools were obligated to respond “promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment” of students, including those who identify as transgender, allow transgender students access to sex-segregated activities or facilities, and protect transgender students’ privacy in line with Title IX and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Schools could not require a medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or documents of transgender students before following the guidelines. The guidelines also clarified schools’ ability to “provide additional privacy options to any student for any reason” nor did it “require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces.”
The change to states’ rights
A recent joint letter from the DoJ and DoE notes the legal implications of the Obama administration’s guidance and cites states’ rights as a primary reason to withdraw it:
The Departments believe that, in this context, there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy.
Currently, the Girvens are stationed OCONUS and will be PCSing stateside later this year. For now, Blue’s civil rights are safeguarded at the DoDEA school she currently attends. In October 2016, the Pentagon issued a memo guaranteeing transgender military children access to military base facilities and youth programs and activities. The DoD has yet to comment on that policy, although Military Times notes that “a spokesman indicated a response would be forthcoming.”
The recent changes in policy add a new dimension of worry to the Girvens’ move. What if the state or school district they PCS to isn’t supportive of Blue? “We just want to know that our child’s life, her ability to attend school without fear, [and] her civil rights are not a pawn of politics,” Girven said. “Our future is no longer something we can rely on.”
Across the pond, Amanda Brewer, military spouse and mother of transgender daughter Jenn, worries about the future of policy in public schools.
“Having to live election cycle to election cycle to see if your kiddo will have rights is nerve-wracking,” Brewer said. “We are in a place where Jenn does have rights. She is herself at school and comfortable. The repeal could very well change that.”
The impact on military families
While the Pentagon estimates that there approximately 7,000 transgender military members serving, a survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality place the number of transgender troops in the National Guard, Reserves, and active duty military at 15,500. There are no statistics kept for transgender military dependents.
Even if the Pentagon continues to follow the guidance from the October 2016 memo, both Brewer and Girven note that the loss of Title IX guidance for public schools will affect military families’ readiness.
“Can you imagine being deployed and the feeling of helplessness you would have if it was your child being denied the most basic rights?” she asked. “Could you focus on your job?
“Many military families of trans kids are now in states with no protections,” Brewer said. “The state can now choose what, if any, protections the child can have. This will cause more mental health problems and suicide attempts. This will hurt military families as mental health is already a concern for the community at large.”
Trans youth report high instances of suicide attempts and depression. According to the Trevor Project, a suicide intervention nonprofit for LGBT youth, 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide at some point. 92 percent of those suicide attempts happened before the age of 25. A single instance of victimization based on a person’s gender identity or sexuality increases self-harming behavior by 2.5 times.
Before the DoE and DoJ guidance, Jenn was “questioned relentlessly in the hall about her gender identity and her birth name. She was stopped from sitting with other kids on the bus because being transgender was against the driver’s beliefs.” After the guidance for public schools, Jenn transferred to a supportive school.
What comes next
These military families now have an uneasy wait ahead of them.
“As for now, we wait to see if the DoD reverses policy changes that were implemented last fall as well as the Supreme Court hearing next month which we hope restores the interpretation of Title IX’s definition of gender,” American Military Partners Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack said.
The recent joint DoE-DoJ letter ends with a promise to the families of transgender students:
All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment. . . The Department of Education and the Department of Justice are committed to the application of Title IX and other federal laws to ensure such protection.
But military families are left wondering how each state’s application of the law will affect their transgender children. “[Military families with transgender children] are being asked to choose between our country and keeping our kids safe. Being military, we don’t have a say which state we move to next. We don’t know if it will be a state that protects her civil rights or one that won’t,” Girven said. “Civil rights should never be based on your zip code.”
J.G. Noll is the Editor of Military One Click and a veteran’s spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.