The Total Child

EQUITY SERIES: Deep Under My Skin

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link   All Posts

The following blog post was written by a member of the AASA School Administrator Training Cadre for Coordinated School Health, Dr. Deb Kaclik. Dr. Kaclik explores the complexities of misconstruing gender identity and how it relates to school administrators providing safe environments for their students. Her message is especially pertinent, in light of the controversial law passed in North Carolina –the state where Dr. Kaclik works--, which requires that transgender students use school facilities that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. Recently, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.

 By Dr. Deb Kaclik, Director, Social & Emotional Learning and Behavior Support, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.)

A few weeks ago I was in the bathroom at a casual restaurant in Charlotte, NC when a woman walked in and asked, “Am I in the right place?” Though the interaction lasted just a split second, I kept replaying it in my mind.

My first thought was: I’m a 50 something year-old woman, wearing sports wear, and running shoes. Was it the way I was dressed? Is it because I’m 5’11” tall and 170 pounds that she would assume that I didn’t belong in her bathroom? Or that I don’t look particularly feminine but more “sporty” maybe? Because I have short hair? More muscular and fit? Did she assume I was a man in the women’s bathroom? Why did she assume that or even ask the question? 

 I felt angry. But why? I’m proud of who I am. I feel accepted by my colleagues, my staff, and a broad group of political leaders. I am blessed with loving relationships: my partner, my family, and my friends.

I would not have felt as angry, perhaps, if she would have just stared at me and said nothing. So how did she get so deep under my skin? There was more than just anger there. This woman had dragged me from my happy place back to those painful times, when I was younger, remembering the feelings of being mis-gendered. The awkwardness, the feelings of wanting to disappear, or miraculously spin into a ninja and escape. What's wrong with me? How do I change who I am? Can I change what I look like? What do they see? Who am I? What am I?

Are people intentionally looking for who they perceive to look like men in the women’s restroom now that the topic is at the forefront in the media? Are we creating a hypersensitive atmosphere and even making things worse for an already marginalized person? If I am now thinking and experiencing these things, just stop for a minute to process what our transgender, and gender nonconforming students and staff, must be feeling, thinking, and worse experiencing?

What should matter is only what is what, who is who, and me is me! What is happening to me and how it is making me feel is important to me. Who will stand up for me? Do what is right? Create the comfortable culture for all without pointing the ME’s out? Help me? Possibly protect me? Do we accept people for who they are and appreciate the differences that individuals provide that color our world? In public education, every student is supposed to be welcome. He/She/They should feel safe, accepted, and supported for who he/she/they are in school. But what IS happening in your schools' classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms...when the words "hey f-g" or "you're so gay" ring out? Or a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) awareness poster is ripped down off the wall? Do you talk with your staff about addressing these issues? Do you role play them in your leadership meetings? Your culture may not be as accepting to all as you truly thought it was. How are you going to assess and ensure that everyone is accepted and feels safe under your watch? 

We have had our fill of personal agendas, politics and values recently. Both verbalized and written, these claims can run deep, sometimes making no sense or having no purpose if we really think about it. Personal agendas find there way of crowding out common sense.

 How lucky we are to live in a time and in a place where youth voices sharing their viewpoints and perspectives, can snap adults back into reality. Listening to their personal stories * confronting challenges, generates avenues for dialogue and opportunities to check our own bias. Establishing caring, respectful environments in our schools creates openings for everyone to engage in acceptance. Support from the broader community and equal protection from our laws can affirm dignity and grace, raising everyone up. It is our job as educators and administrators to model and lead it!

 *You are invited to engage your schools and community in the conversation by viewing the documentaries and downloading the facilitator guides at no charge from http://www.meckmin.org/souls/ Thank you!


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