Changes I see in Arizona.
by: Robert Chevaleau – President, Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization (AZTYPO)
For the last couple of years I’ve been going around to local Phoenix area schools trying to better prepare them to support their transgender students. I’ve been starting conversations with administrators, presenting training to teachers and staff, advocating on behalf of families, doing what I could to promote an environment in schools that is supportive and affirming of every child’s identified gender.
What I found, frankly, has surprised me. What I’ve found is…support. Despite the fact that every school I talk to makes it a point to tell me how conservative they are, they invite me in. And we have a conversation. And they ask questions. And they listen.
I find that surprising because, only a few years ago, no one was asking questions, no one was listening, no one was having a conversation about what it means to be trans, or what gender non-binary means, or why respect of a person’s pronouns, names, and gender expression in general is so important to a child’s self-esteem. No one was asking those questions. No one could be bothered.
And that attitude seemed to be consistent across the community. Take our own Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) as an example. The woman who founded our organization 10 years ago, was a nurse at PCH. When she approached the hospital seeking guidance in finding medical care for her transgender son, she was dismissed, ignored. At the time, she was told that PCH was not interested in taking on any transgender children as patients. Apparently, her child was too controversial to be considered for medical care.
But things have changed.
Fast forward to today and Phoenix Children’s Hospital has now one of the only Gender Management Clinics in the southwest and leads the way in providing professional, affirming healthcare for trans kids. They provide medical and mental health support. They provide training for physicians and staff to make them aware of some of the challenges that present when providing care to a transgender child. They work directly with local advocacy groups to provide mobile healthcare to homeless LGBT youth. Last year I helped support a Facebook Live event at PCH dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of an affirming environment for trans patients. It has been a total 180 degree change in policy from PCH. And one of which they should be proud.
Similar changes are happening in schools.
Organizations like our local chapter of GLSEN have been supporting LGBT students for more than a decade. Last year, ASU launched their Transgender Education Program (TEP) to provide professional development training on trans kids specifically geared to the K-12 classroom. The Arizona School Counselors Association has issued guidelines in support of a child’s gender identity. And the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), representing 223 member districts statewide and over one million Arizona students, released a document providing guidance to schools encouraging them to affirm a child’s gender and stresses the importance of a safe and inclusive classroom.
But, while the support is there, it is fragile. To date, all this support is based on good faith, on people wanting to learn more about how to support trans kids and to provide the best learning environment possible for all students. Unfortunately, “good faith” is of little value when bad actors present themselves and things like transphobia, bigotry, and ignorance come calling.
In Arizona, there are currently no statewide legal protections for people who identify as LGBT.
One network of charter schools based in Phoenix, for example, has passed an official policy that goes against all recommendations from the medical, mental health, and educational communities on how to best support a trans student. And, from a legal perspective, they are entitled to do so. As absurd as it sounds, the school has chosen to create a learning environment so toxic for the mental health of a transgender student that many trans kids have chosen to leave rather than subject themselves to the abusive policy. And there are no statewide statutes to prevent the school from chasing out this minority population of students.
While the policy of this public charter school chain is at odds with current trends, it highlights the fact that there is more work to do here in Arizona. That said, I’m optimistic. My experience has been that, when given the opportunity, people in education want to learn. They want to help. And they want to do what is in the best interest of all their students. Once questions are raised, once information is shared, once conversations are started, support for trans kids blooms. Even here in Arizona.
Robert Chevaleau is the President of the Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization (AZTYPO). Both his cisgender daughter and his transgender daughter attend a local public school and are well supported by teachers, staff, and school leadership. You can reach him at email@example.com