Sunday, May 1, 2016

Equal Opportunity for All

As an educator, I’m worried about Tennessee’s new “counseling bill” on two levels. First, things like the counseling bill and the Bible bill get people worked up and distracted from common sense solutions to actual problems--like passing Insure Tennessee, for example. Second, I’m concerned because I work with the very population that this law affects the most. I work with students like Blake Brockington.
Blake, an 18-year-old student at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, became the first openly transgendered homecoming king in a North Carolina high school. When he was named homecoming king, Blake said, “Nobody should be scared to be themselves, and everybody should have an equal opportunity to have an enjoyable high school experience.” He went out of his way to mentor younger transgendered high school students--all while his home life was in turmoil. After coming out to his parents, his was kicked out of his house and placed in state custody, where a foster family eventually took him in. He committed suicide a little over a month ago.
Unfortunately, Blake’s experience is all too common in a society that fears what it does not understand. Transgendered individuals are not confused about their identities. In fact, they are as positive about their identities as you and me. Transgendered people identify as the opposite gender because they truly believe that they were born in the wrong body. It’s not because they’re homosexual and they’re certainly not identifying as the opposite gender to go into a different bathroom and commit heinous crimes.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, an extraordinary 41 percent of trans people have reported attempting suicide--a rate nearly 10 times the national average for non-transgendered individuals. Certainly, life would be much easier to blend in with society and not be the social outcast, but this lifestyle is not a choice. What is a choice is how we react as a society. We can choose to either educate ourselves and become more accepting of people who are different from us, or we can turn our collective heads the other way, remain ignorant, and exacerbate the problem.
Sadly, Tennessee can now lump itself in with Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina as a states who are choosing to look the other way. Recent legislative attacks that were endorsed by the Republican National Committee are perpetuating the harmful narrative that transgendered people are dangerous and evil. This causes them to feel hopeless and turn to a counselor for help--except, in Tennessee, they can be turned away.
Granted, most counselors in this state will still help patients just as they did before this law was passed because, like educators, doctors, and other professionals, they do it because their passion is to help people. I also understand why Governor Haslam signed this hate-filled bill into law. He is a Republican governor who has to work with a Republican legislature for two more years. That means sometimes passing laws that are, frankly, bad for business. If the American Counseling Association moves their convention in 2017 to a different location, it will cost the state approximately $10 million in lost revenue. If musicians stop performing in Music City (and, possibly, Bonnaroo), as they have in North Carolina, the economic impact will be far greater--certainly in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The irony of this bill is not lost on me, as Republican lawmakers, who pride themselves on being pro business and small government, invented a problem to solve and then spent taxpayers’ money solving it, all the while breaking their sworn oaths that they “will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people.”

I am standing up for students like Blake Brockington. Transgendered people deserve an equal opportunity to pursue their own happiness as human beings. They deserve to have educators, doctors, counselors, and other professionals treat them humanely regardless of their own personal beliefs, because that’s what professionals do. The citizens of Tennessee deserve to have a legislature that is interested in solving actual--not imaginary--problems.

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