In June, the school board in Frederick County, Maryland, a mainly rural county 50 miles west of Washington DC, passed Policy 443, a policy spelling out protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students. As classes begin, the new policy will be tested. Also, Alliance Defending Freedom, an extremist anti-LGBT legal group filed a lawsuit to stop the new policy. I interviewed Nicola Van Kuilenburg, mother of James, a trans student and a leader of Support FSPS Trans Students.
How did the process begin that created Policy 443?
Nicola: A group of trans students and their parents got together after the inauguration because we were worried about what might happen under the Trump Administration. We decided we would push for a local level policy to protect trans/gnc students. The day the guidelines were rescinded we took a group of 10 students to the BOE meeting to push for a policy. The Board of Education (BOE) agreed but were noncommittal. We then started to contact local progressive/liberal/youth orgs to get their support in contacting the BOE. Hundreds of emails were sent! We then started to discuss with the BOE what our needs were re a policy and the group drafted best practices etc and shared them with the BOE
What issues do transgender and gender nonconforming students face when trying to get an education?
Nicola: We already had an informal policy in place that guaranteed access to bathrooms that match gender/pronouns etc but there was no consistency across the schools. Bullying is an issue in our schools, especially for trans/gnc students and depression and anxiety rates are also higher.
Policy 443 gets its true test as the school year begins. What plans do Support FSPS Trans Students have to make sure trans students are actually protected under the policy? What others plans for the future?
Nicola: We are working with the teachers union to ensure that teachers are aware not only of the policy, but why the policy is needed. We are also working on a social media campaign to increase visibility for trans youth in Frederick County. We are asking people to use the hashtag #IAmFrederick to show their support. We want the whole county- teachers, students, parents, businesses, faith communities etc- to participate.
There’s a lawsuit filed to stop Policy 443 from being implemented. What forces are involved on the other side trying to stop trans students from being protected?
Nicola: We can’t talk in detail about the lawsuit in case we end up being personally involved but it’s important to note that the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is involved. This is a group that spends millions of dollars bullying in particular trans students and school districts who are trying to protect us. During the discussions around the policy, they showed up to a few of the meetings and made very hateful comments attacking us.
What tips do you have and what lessons do you want to share for others wanting to implement similar protections for their schools?
Nicola: Frederick County, MD is not a particularly progressive county. In fact, it voted for Trump! We were successful because we put the stories of the students first, and we also made sure to emphasize that the policy would help ALL students, not just trans students.