Some more LGBTQ+ training for me, which began with the enticement: ‘Did you know nearly half of transgender youth have been bullied on school property?’
Yes, I’ve heard made-up sounding statistics dozens of times before. It comes from a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whose mission statement is:
CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.
CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.Mission statement from CDC’s website
You can read an article which summarises the CDC’s report findings here which paints a picture of constant victimisation of trans-identified pupils in American schools and includes the claim that ‘29% of transgender youth have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property’. I wonder what proportion of that percentage actually experienced injury? How can such an important institution get away with such flagrant politicisation?
I suppose the phenomenon of school shootings is the reason why bullying has ended up being considered a security threat, hence the CDC’s involvement, but have there been any deaths of transgender pupils in US schools specifically as a result of hate?* I haven’t heard of any, but there is at least one known female shooter who identified with gender identity ideology.**
*Please let me know by commenting if so, and I will update this blog.
**I’m sure there was at least one other female school shooter, again if anyone can find an article which confirms, please comment.
The training was held by No Bully, a non-profit organisation exempt from federal income tax, who work with corporate sponsors, like Burger King and Facebook, to campaign to ‘eradicate bullying and cyberbullying worldwide’. (As an aside the Burger King bully advert is hilarious – a ‘WHOPPER JR.®’ burger gets ‘bullied’ – you just can’t make these things up – and although they don’t mention fat discrimination, there’s nevertheless a strong greasy whiff of it.)
The panel was comprised of five women, two who identify as trans, two women with links to PFLAG and the woman hosting was naturally from No Bully itself. Although the panel members were ‘experts’ through the use of the phrase ‘racial barriers’ it was acknowledged that it was an all white panel.
The Trevor Project is a crisis and suicide prevention charity for LGBTQ people aged 25 and under, which has an impressive list of corporate support, including $1 million donations from Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Keygan Miller (they/them), a trans-identified female who appears to take testosterone, leads on its school suicide prevention programme.
Jean Marie Navetta works for PFLAG, which is sort of an American equivalent to Stonewall UK. Hilariously she/her/hers is ‘living proof that Philosophy majors can get real jobs’. Her main strands of work at PFLAG appear to be on the subject of ‘allyship’.
Ann Vitale is a No Bully trainer and PFLAG chapter president. She was keen for us to know that she had a 23 year old ‘transgender daughter’ and runs a support group for the same.
Leo Caldwell runs an LGBTQ+ training consultancy aimed at school kids, which appears not to be an established business since I could only find a link on Facebook and the business has had little in the way of interaction with other accounts. Interestingly one of the bonuses of the training offered is that it requires ‘little to no parental assistance’. Quel sorprise.
The first thing No Bully wanted to know was who was on the call and held an impromptu survey which revealed that it was roughly a three way split between educators, parents and students (of roughly 30 people).
Terminology – let’s get it clear from the get-go!
The first topic for discussion was the issue of terminology. Vitale told us she used the word ‘queer’ to cover the LGBTQWERTY spectrum, because saying LGBTQWERTY every time was just too much of a mouthful. Navetta agreed and said that every year PFLAG had to update its glossary because the meanings of words change so much (NB: queer is allowed, but the factually correct homosexual is verboten). Without a shred of irony they acknowledged that ‘queer’ could still be a pejorative term but since it had sort of been reclaimed now was perfectly okay to use, which must be of great comfort to same-sex attracted teens at school right now.
No one offered an explanation on how it was possible to fully understand QWERTY sickbag glossary given its constant expansion and changing nature.
On the topic of barriers LGBTQ youth face, Miller said at school this included not seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum and access issues to the desired toilets and sports. At home we had to consider the relationship with their family, and place of worship, who might not accept them. This all leads to mental health issues. The way to tackle this was to put inclusive policies into place. The Trevor Project had undertaken a survey in 2020 which shows that things just aren’t getting better, with more than half of trans and non-binary youths having seriously considered suicide (the survey has some interactive toggle features in case you want to read through).
Vitale described the No Bully programme which puts students together, bully, victim and the friends of both sides, in order to develop empathy. It sounds a useful tool to address ordinary school bullying, but lacked any insight into the mindset of the constant bully (i.e. likely a kid with an abusive family situation).
Things are getting worse (aka Donald Trump hasn’t been kicked out of office yet)
Navetta was invited to talk about how things were ‘getting worse’ and said that there were three things which had happened:
- One of the first acts of the secretary of education was to stop enforcing really important guidance for trans and gender expansive students – calls to the Trevor Project spiked at that time.
- Climate overall. Terrible wherever you go. There were elected leaders who were in no uncertain terms bullies and being cheered for it. Adults were also replicating this behaviour and that there had been an Oklahoma school which had to shut down for two days.1
- Less resources have been allocated and the pressure on educators were too much. Plus some of the actual bullying was coming from educators!
1 The school was shut down whilst police investigated comments made by parents in a Facebook group about a 7th grader (12-13 years old) who used the girls’ toilets, rather than the staff toilet. The BBC reports the mother of the 7th grader said her son had been accused by a girl of peeping under the cubicle – an interesting tidbit.
Vitale agreed that so many of the problems were coming from adults, and that parents and grandparents didn’t understand and that they were stirring up an issue which isn’t there, yet didn’t specify exactly what, but made a remark about racial segregation and water fountains. (Sadly WordPress doesn’t have emojis – so please imagine an eye roll one now.)
Caldwell said that when parents and teachers were supportive they could reduce the suicide risk of youths by 40%. Many kids had to lie to their parents about attending LGBT groups and the adults who ran such groups were ‘saving lives’ (adults like herself naturally).
Time for some BLM virtue signalling!
The No Bully host claimed that one third of queer people in the US are people of colour, meaning that they were more likely to be queer than whites were. What about the intersectionality of that! How do these people manage?
Vitale said of course things were exponentially worse for them because of racism, socio economic issues, religion, etc.
How can we help people to continue to be allies?
Caldwell – Listen to people and develop empathy – lived experience. Validate, validate, validate. Lived experience.
Vitale – Coca Cola had done some work on how to be an ally. Accept the story as it is, as it’s told to you. Ramp up the empathy. Give up your own space for someone who is ‘disadvantaged’.
Miller – we don’t always have the answer as an ally and listen to what other peoples’ needs. Some solutions don’t always work in a new space.
Navetta – when a child is bullied it is a disempowering experience and we have opportunity to restore power. Allyship was very important and Navetta’s important research had uncovered that most people thought they didn’t have to do anything to be an ally. ‘If that doesn’t make you feel sick to your stomach and furious at the same time, there’s something wrong with you’ she said, using the most shaming language she could think of. You don’t get to be an ally if you don’t do nothing. She was grateful that at PFLAG they regularly corrected each others’ behaviour.
What about Leo’s wonderful online storytelling?
In 2017 Caldwell was inspired to develop training in response to the transgender bathroom bills being discussed at the time. She developed scenarios, including ones where the trans person didn’t ‘pass’ or was with their family but not ‘out’ to them, where the character would have to decide to use the ladies or gents. COVID made her realise that she now had a captive audience and so had developed training to help kids develop empathy for LGBTQ issues. Her favourite module, and I know you’ll be very surprised when I tell you this, is where a ‘trans girl’ has to make a decision about whether to use the girls toilets, or not, in school.
But how can adults support our youth?
Miller – using someone’s pronouns can reduce suicide ideation. It’s so easy! Any adult has that ability! Go to schools and ask about their policies.
Caldwell – provide a safe space for kids to come out.
Vitale – hold each other accountable and bullying doesn’t just happen between kids.
Navetta – adults need to remember that they can’t really understand what da kids are experiencing nowadays and mentioned again the school which had to be shut down for two days as an example of deteriorating behaviour (just wait until Navetta hears about the Columbine High School Massacre – her tiny brain is going to explode). She then gave an anecdote about a friend who used ‘outdated’ terminology, which was stripped of any relevance since she didn’t disclose what the offensive words were, nor what her recommendations for replacement were.
What about the connection between autism and gender identity?
Vitale – her parent support group for transgender kids had a high incidence of autism. Studies also showed it was higher. She also suggested gender identity may be influenced by hormones in utero.
Miller – It had been investigated both ways and it was difficult to know which direction it was coming from and used the phrase ‘neuro-divergent’ an upcoming buzz word for those pushing gender identity ideology. An autism research organisation had developed a web page about bodily anatomy which allowed kids to select ‘non-gendered language’ when describing body parts.
To Leo again – what happens when nasty parents aren’t supportive of brave and stunning trans kids
Caldwell couldn’t talk about statistics, she could only talk about stories. Here’s an interesting one, when she goes to schools, she often takes the ‘trans kids aside so that I can talk to them specifically after I speak’. How kind and generous, huh? Anyway, what Caldwell notices is that kids who are supported by parents are so much happier. The one or two kids who aren’t being supported Caldwell can really connect with, because that was her experience too, and she ‘really spends a lot of time with these kids’. Kids who aren’t supported by their parents have low confidence and are super shy and this ‘stunts their growth’ as they may start college late. Basically it destroys them.
How has racial injustice and COVID affected our kids in and out of the classroom?
Miller – Kids might experience less stress as they haven’t been at school but not for kids who have to be in the closet.
Navetta – Kids now understanding more about the changes which need to happen with regards to racial injustice and that kids are pushing parents to understand the issues too.
The ad break
After the panel ‘discussion’ ended we were shown ‘a very cool video’. After furiously scribbling to document what was on screen, I was utterly flummoxed at the end to find that we had just been shown the latest Oreo advert. If you want to have a little bit of sick in your mouth – without having to eat Oreos – you now can! The advert was produced in association with PFLAG and of course had zero to do with the issue being discussed – bullying (in case you’ve forgotten).
In the chat we were urged to check out PFLAG’s collaboration with Coca-Cola (https://twitter.com/CocaCola/status/1315007782664450051?s=20) (yet another political endorsement with almost zero engagement from the twittersphere) and that it would be sent out in our pack of information post-meeting.
Navetta told us that we can actually buy Rainbow Oreos. Having looked at Oreos twitter account, the novelty is that you arrange the cookies to recreate the various flags (i.e. several biscuits). So this is really for children then. And clever. Someone on the call told us that they really wanted to go out and buy a case of Oreos now. (If you believe that you’ll believe anything.)
Question & Answer session
My son is gay and my wife and I try to support him as much as we can, but he is due to go to college, how can we support him transition to being on his own, especially in the current environment?
Following a deathly silence – it was said to keep lines of communication open and let him know he can still ask for help, look at the resources on campus.
How can I become involved in policy making?
The Trevor Project has an advocacy and policy section which is open to volunteers and you can contact any of the panel members for further advice. Also look out for the ‘negative’ policies, like ‘anti-trans sports bills’ and ‘anti-medical bills which basically say that young people can’t do any sort of medical transition’ – lots of support were needed on those to make sure that they don’t pass into law. The media coverage around these issues was enough to put young people into a crisis space, so the more people speak out, especially to legislators, the more likely these young people will feel comfortable and all importantly reduce suicide risk.
My parents are not supportive of using my pronouns, how do I get them to understand it is hurtful and disrespectful?
Sit down with them and tell them how you really feel. This will be painful. If they won’t support you find the support of another adult so that you still feel seen outside of your home. Consider sending your parents to a PFLAG meeting or a trans parents’ meeting.
Miller admitted that she had been out for almost 12 years and that her parents had only just begun to use her pronouns, but still didn’t get it right all the time, and that they had been supportive in other ways but that language change had been particularly difficult for them.
The host closed saying that an enormous amount of ground had been covered and recommended people seek out the various advocates (‘do Leo’s lessons’) and ‘do be okay with being uncomfortable’. I was half expecting her to tell us to crack open a can of Coke with a side of Oreos.
What is the connection between the food industry and gender identity ideology then? Fucking chemicals, that’s what. This was basically an informercial and political broadcast parading as a training session. The solutions for helping this ‘susceptible group’ lay firmly with parents and teachers. How parents and teachers can fight political groups which have access to political leverage with the backing of multinational corporations I have no idea.