It was an hour and a half until the school board meeting, but the parking lot was already packed. Two local news vans were parked in front of the school. Tonight, the school board for the school system where I worked and where my kids went to school was going to vote on whether to add "transgender" to the list of reasons for which students and employees should not face discrimination.
I had to be at this particular meeting to assist with a different agenda item: honoring the outstanding achievements of some school employees. Until tonight, I had thought of my large northern Virginia county—a suburb of Washington, D.C.—as a predominately liberal enclave in an otherwise conservative state: a diverse, progressive oasis.
Outside, large groups of protesters had gathered, holding signs that said "No penises in the girl's bathroom." One woman asked me where she could find child care, saying she had brought her small children with her because she felt it was important for them to see her voice her opinion against this issue, but she was worried the meeting's content might get too risqué. When I told her we didn't provide child care during board meetings, she asked if she could let her kids loose in the gym by themselves.
"You see, we're all moms here," I heard a woman say matter-of-factly into the Telemundo TV reporter's microphone as I walked past. She could have been referring to the small semi-circle of women collected around the reporter at the back of the packed middle school auditorium, or the hundreds of women in attendance at the meeting, but either way, how dare she use her children as a shield; how dare she hide behind them as a seemingly noble reason for her hatred; and how dare she lump me into the same category as her simply because we were both raising children.
She and other likeminded parents were in attendance to perpetuate ignorant intolerance. They were convinced that the moment the word "transgender" was added to the list of groups the school system cannot legally discriminate against, men in dresses would suddenly flood the girls' bathrooms, sexually assaulting everyone in their wake. It was the most ridiculous "threat" I could imagine a parent conjuring up.
I have a lot of worries as a mom, but fear of transgender people will never be one of them.
I couldn't believe so many people thought it was not only OK, but important to appear on tomorrow's news advocating FOR discrimination. This boggled my mind. I couldn't believe people didn't have better things to spend their time and energy on than asking their school system to discriminate. They had come out in droves, crowded in so tight that the police were at the door blocking any more people from entering the auditorium. I was overwhelmed and agitated, and so deeply disappointed in humanity.
I've never been confronted by such a large group of people intent on spreading hate and fear based on imagined threats from a group of people they've likely had little interaction with. In feeling prejudice's attempt to smother compassion out of the room, I came to understand its power.
The categories and groups listed as protected are usually there for a reason: because they are more likely to face discrimination, and therefore need protection. LBGTQ people are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. In fact, violence against transgender people has increased significantly; with at least 21 murders, 2015 was the deadliest year on record. This year, 26 gender-nonconforming individuals have already been murdered, according to The Advocate.
That violence is a direct result of this increase in hateful fear-mongering. I'm not scared that my kids will go to school with a transgender student or teacher; I'm scared that my kids will go to school with the children of these intolerant people. They are teaching their kids that differences are to be feared. Their kids will be the bullies that I have to teach my kids to beware.
If we continue to pretend that transgender people are the real threat to schools—not the pressure to achieve and to conform, the joy-of-learning-killing standardized testing, the bullying, the guns—then our children will surely pay the price. If nowhere else, kids should at least feel free to be themselves at school. By promoting anti-discrimination policies, schools can model tolerance and empathy—for students, and for society.
Thankfully, our school board did not listen to these hateful hordes: It voted in favor of the motion to protect transgender people from discrimination. I hope other school systems soon follow suit.