This year, we’ve seen a growing number of attacks on LGBTQ+ youth throughout the country. So far, in 2022, over 200 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been proposed in 35 states around the country, and these bills have overwhelmingly targeted trans youth.
In Wisconsin, we’ve seen politicians openly discriminate against trans students who play sports, attempt to ban trans minors from receiving lifesaving health care, and single them out under the guise of “parental rights.”
Recently, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the national ACLU appeared before the Wisconsin Supreme Court for arguments in Doe v. Madison Metropolitan School District. We, along with cooperating counsel at Quarles & Brady, are representing three student Gender and Sexuality Alliances in the district who are defending the district’s policy of giving students the autonomy to use different names or pronouns at school without it being involuntarily disclosed to their parents.
Young people have various reasons for delaying sharing aspects of their identities with their parents – some are not ready, some may fear rejection, condemnation, or worse – whatever the reason may be, it should be respected.
According to a legal brief filed by a group of psychologists supporting the district’s voluntary disclosure policy, approximately one-third of transgender youth are rejected by their families after disclosing their identity. Youth who are rejected by their families can face physical and verbal abuse and homelessness. Some are forced to endure attempts by others to change their identity or orientation.
Suppose parents are told that their child is using a different name or pronouns at school without getting consent from the student. It can destabilize the students’ lives and potentially put them in danger if they are raised in an environment hostile to LGBTQ+ people.
“For too many transgender and gender-expansive youth, school is the only place where they can safely and freely be themselves,” said Amira Pierotti, a senior at Memorial High School in Madison. “I know many youth who have needed this guidance because they feared for their safety and housing. Outing transgender youth creates a culture of silence, fear, trauma, and violence: we deserve better.”
By attempting to force the district to notify the parents of students who have asked to use a different name or pronoun than they were assigned at birth – even when it is against the students’ wishes – they are putting trans and nonbinary youth, children already in a vulnerable position, at even further risk.
The school district’s guidance protects youth by allowing them to be who they are without fear of being outed against their will, providing them the freedom and safety to explore their identity on their own terms.