There was an ugly moment at the school board meeting last week in Skowhegan. During the public comment period, a community member and longtime substitute teacher made flippant and dehumanizing comments about LGBTQ students that went unchallenged in the moment by the board chairwoman.

And once again, students just looking for safety and comfort at school found their differences exaggerated, and their concerns mocked and disregarded.

The woman who stood to speak had a problem with a new gender neutral bathroom at Skowhegan Area High School. She called the bathroom “bisexual,” then wondered if the sign out front was going to be changed to “queers or lesbians or whatever.”

“I have no problem with bis or trans, but it’s taking so much away from the kids that are normal,” she said in making her muddled point. Audio of the meeting shows some in the crowd reacted, asking for the board to step in, but they were gaveled down by the board chairwoman.

The message to any transgender student, inadvertently or not, was that at least some adults believe they are not “normal,” or at least are fine with others saying it, and that minor changes finally taking into account their safety and privacy are regarded as an imposition on others.

And if those kinds of views aren’t being challenged in public, what’s happening to transgender students in more private settings?

The gender neutral bathroom — one private stall that anyone can use — was proposed after a number of incidents of harassment last school year targeting trans and gender expansive students and community members. After months of delay, the bathroom was created — but just one, in the administrative office.

Administrators and the school board say that’s enough. It’s not — the bathroom is not available to students after school hours, and its placement only serves to further single out students who use it. In light of the events at last week’s meeting, it’s worth wondering if it’s another case of school leaders not taking student safety seriously enough.

Under the Maine Human Rights Act, transgender students must be allowed to use the public accommodations that correspond to their gender identity — a transgender girl is a girl is a girl, and a transgender boy is a boy, and they must be treated as such.

As elsewhere in the country, that has made them a target, not only from those who make ridiculous claims about sexual predation but also by the other students they encounter in the bathroom, where kids are usually left unsupervised.

That is two shades of the ignorance and bigotry that has left transgender Americans of all ages to deal with harassment, violence and discrimination. Gender neutral bathrooms are part of the response to that, a way to provide transgender students with the safety and privacy that other students already enjoy  — not something “extra,” and certainly not something that is a threat to anyone else.

The day after the meeting, the school board chairwoman issued a statement calling the remarks “biased,” “hateful” and “inappropriate,” and said she should have shut them down sooner. She realized, however late, that she failed in her duty to foster a safe and equitable environment for learning. It’s a lesson every educator and school official should take seriously.

 


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