“States’ rights.” Throughout American history, we’ve heard this common refrain from opponents of equal rights who have fought progress under the guise of state autonomy.
When Alabama Gov. George Wallace fought the end of Jim Crow laws, he claimed it was about “states’ rights.” When Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to stop African-American students from entering Little Rock Central High School, he cited “states’ rights.” When anti-suffragists fought the 19th Amendment, they invoked “states’ rights.” Those who opposed the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Act and marriage equality – you guessed it, they all cited “states’ rights.”
This week, President Donald Trump has again used “states’ rights” as an excuse to discriminate — this time by undermining crucial protections for transgender students in our nation’s schools.
"Like all civil rights issues, protecting transgender students at school is not a question of states’ rights."
— Chad Griffin
But like all civil rights issues, protecting transgender students at school is not a question of states’ rights. We are a nation that believes in equal protection and treatment under our laws. All students should be protected equally regardless of where they live.
Prejudice affects every aspect of a transgender child’s education. According to one study, 82% of transgender students have reported hearing negative comments from other students, and nearly one-third reported hearing negative comments from teachers and school staff.
The stigma and mistreatment these kids so often face contributes to a disproportionately high rate of depression, anxiety and psychological distress. Nearly half make an attempt on their own lives at some point. That’s a figure that should shock the conscience of every American.
It’s why more than 1,000 parents of transgender kids sent a letter to President Trump this week with a simple plea: “No young person should wake up in the morning fearful of the school day ahead.” These are parents who fear for the well-being of their children and who are desperately trying to do everything in their power to protect them.
These parents know that the policies our federal government and schools put in place have an enormous impact. Research shows that creating a supportive environment where transgender people are treated in accordance with their gender identity can drastically alter these statistics.
But so far, the Trump administration has shown they either do not understand the gravity of this issue, or they simply do not care. Whether they have launched this unprecedented attack to placate right-wing groups or to undermine the legacy of his predecessor, no American should stand idly by as their government inflicts harm on our children.
The Trump administration should immediately put this guidance back in place. They don’t have to listen to me – but they should listen to the thousands of parents and students who are hurting right now.
But if this president continues to abuse the power of the federal government to undermine the rights of young people, we all have to stand up for the kids in our lives.
Whether you're a teacher, a counselor, a parent, a preacher, a neighbor, a business leader or an elected official, it’s crucial right now to stand up, speak out and show transgender youth that there are millions of us who have their backs – no matter what.
We know how history remembers George Wallace and Orval Faubus — men who, in a different era, also fought civil rights in our nation’s classrooms and bathrooms. If Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos and others continue to wage war against the most vulnerable in our society, we know how history will remember them as well.
Chad Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.