Commentary: Should Transgender Youth Fear For Their Safety?

Commentary By: Morgan Reitzel, Follow South Jersey Intern

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. – The Middletown School Board reversed policy 5756  and now the school is required to notify a student’s parents if a gender nonconforming student wants to be addressed by an alternative name or pronoun, participate on different sport teams, or use a different restroom on June 20, 2023. 

The policy before it was reversed allowed students to be accepted with their new identity without their parent’s consent. Everyone on the school board (8) voted yes to reserving the policy except Deborah Wright after seeing how much criticism the board was facing by dozens of students and other supporters opposing the vote. Outside the high school, there was a protesters chanting “Let us in” once the meeting was held at capacity and signs that said “Protect trans kids.” 

“I’m disgusted that I have to even speak at this board meeting because trans students’ rights and privacy are being put in danger. You guys clearly don’t understand the amount of harm you are putting young trans kids in with this policy,” a transgender student said. 

By potentially outing a transgender student to their parents could lead to the child being kicked out and ultimately lead to the child being homeless. Not to mention what could happen to the child’s mental health when their parents have disowned them at such a young age. 

The board meeting and protest has sparked attention and controversy throughout the state. In addition to Middletown, Marlboro and Manalapan-Englishtown school boards have updated their policies with similar rules. 

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, a supporter of transgender youth, filed a civil rights complaint against Hanover Township for trying to publish similar policies. Attorney Platkin argues that this new policy could lead to harm for transgender youth and used the Department of Education’s Transgender Student Guidance as a reference. It states that schools need to ensure a safe and supportive environment for transgender students. Due to the complaint, the policy never went through at Hanover Township. 

“The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination flatly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, and we are firmly committed to taking swift action in response to any policy that violates that prohibition.” said spokeswoman Tara Oliver of the Office of the Attorney General and the Division on Civil Rights.

During the Middletown board meeting, Michele Collins, a parent in the K-12 district of 9,000 plus students says, ““Each of you are aware that LGBTQIA+ youth are at the highest risk of suicide. You will have blood on your hands should a trans student takes their life because of this.“

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of anti-LGBTQ+ being implicated at schools in New Jersey in 2023. Westwood Regional School has banned pride flags and other signs outside the district schools. Just this May, a Hamilton Township school board had a meeting about banning books about the LGBTQIA+ community from the district libraries. 

Since school is no longer in session, it is difficult to exactly know how this reversed policy may affect trans students. Yet. There is no doubt that trans students are afraid of what is to come for the new school year. 

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