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Arizona Republicans are backing a measure that would discipline teachers and open them up to lawsuits if they don’t tell parents everything a student tells them—including if the student confides that he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

According to the Arizona Mirror, the legislation, House Bill 2161, would make it illegal for a government employee to withhold information that is “relevant to the physical, emotional or mental health of the parent’s child,” and specifically prevents teachers from withholding information about a student’s “purported gender identity” or a request to transition to a gender other than the “student’s biological sex.”

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, would allow parents to sue school districts if teachers don’t comply. The bill also aims to allow parents additional access to certain medical records.

Kaiser argued in the House Education Committee on Jan. 25 that the aim of the legislation is to reign in surveys sent out by schools that have made headlines in a number of states and locally.

But out gay Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson has pushed back against the bill.

Daniel Hernandez wants changes made to HB 2161 outvoices.us

“I still feel this bill is not ready for prime time,” Rep. Hernandez said, adding that he felt there was some merit to schools surveying students. “This bill could’ve been done without this inclusion or without the trivialization of transgender children.”

Kaiser initially said the bill was created via a “stakeholder group” and his “own inherent passion” for the issue. But when Hernandez pressed him on which stakeholders were involved in drafting the bill, Kaiser admitted he didn’t work with education groups or teachers, but with anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups—chief among them the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian lobbying organization that has pushed numerous controversial and bigoted bills since forming in 1995. CAP holds sway with most Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey, and is widely considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups at the state Capitol.

“I’m not sure what education group I’d go to, because they’d be against this," Kaiser told Hernandez.

Kaiser also consulted Family Watch International, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group. That group is backing another piece of legislation that would ban books that have “sexually explicit” content and that critics say would effectively make it illegal to teach about homosexuality.

Punishing Teachers

Supporters of HB2161 said it was necessary to punish teachers in order to bring transparency to schools, who they said have been asking “inappropriate questions.” Some said the $500 fine for school districts in the bill’s language was not large enough — Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction said that was a “drop in the bucket” for a school district and asked Kaiser if he’d agree to increase the amount.

Jeanne Casteen, the executive director of the Arizona Secular Coalition and a former teacher, worried about how the reporting function of the bill would impact child abuse. Teachers are mandatory reporters, and Casteen said that every time she had to report child abuse, it was being inflicted by a parent. Under Kaiser’s bill, she said, a teacher would also have to notify the parents—the likely abusers—that the child informed them of the abuse.

“I keep hearing about parental rights, but what about the rights of these students?” Casteen said.

Although the bill cleared the committee with Republican support, Rep. Joel John, R-Arlington, acknowledged there may be situations where a student may be more comfortable confiding with their teacher than with a parent. He suggested that the changes to the bill will be in the area of outing students to people who are essentially hostile towards them.

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How to talk about transgender issues

So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:

  1. It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
  2. There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
  3. Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.

Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.

sign with a 'friendly for all genders' image showing a person in a wheelchair, and a person with half a dress and pants on.

Transgender bathroom bills

commons.wikimedia.org

So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.

Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.

So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.

Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.

By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.

gif of a man in a suit talking about number 1. Number 1 GIF by PragerU Giphy

The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.

Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.

This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.

Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues

  1. Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
  2. There is a rich history behind transgender issues
  3. Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
    • 3(b). The facts
    • 3(c).The confidence
    • 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights

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