A contributed perspectives piece by Joshua Diamond
It costs me so little to say he, instead of she; to say they or them, or y’all, instead of boys and girls. It costs me so little to say, “I’m sorry. Yes, I can call you Max instead of Alexandra.” It costs me so little to be empathetic and curious about the lives of others whose bodies don’t feel like the right home for their spirit or their gender assignment; for their unique expression of the masculine and/or feminine. It costs me so little to know and remember these expressions, and it costs me so little to say yes to policies that support gender non-conforming people in our schools, and to say no to the ones whose mission is to control, rather than to support.
Soon we’ll be debating and deciding whether we adopt the revised version of Youngkin’s 2022 Model General Policies, which claims to restore parental rights in Virginia by reestablishing the gender binary in schools and requiring parent permission for students to receive counseling or mental health support related to their gender identity in school.
As a youth development worker supporting young people in Harrisonburg over the last 10 years, I’ve found that while it costs me so little to respond to young people in ways that affirm their identity development–no matter how they identify–it costs them so much when we, as the adults in their lives, refuse to recognize the parts of their development that make us uncomfortable or don’t align with our ways of seeing the world. It costs them in big ways, with young trans people having high rates of both suicide and homelessness, and it costs us, as adults, their trust.
While many parents accept the personal costs of knowing their children in new ways, some cannot, or will not, accompany their child on their gender journey. Whatever their reasons, some parents may even berate or react with hostility toward the child whose sense of self doesn’t align with their assumptions or values. And for these young people, where are they to go? If it is a requirement that this child get written permission from the very parent who rejects them in order to receive help, where and how can they get their needs met? What is our collective responsibility in loving and caring for children whose home is no longer a place of safety? This doesn’t mean we throw parents out the door; they are and should be a big part of the answer to our children’s challenges. And while this is true, every child deserves a nuanced response to their mental health needs, which requires school personnel to consider the impact of a child being outed to their family, and to listen to and trust students’ experiences of family and their perceived or real safety within it.
For better or worse, our schools are where children go every day, and where we have an opportunity to create cultures of belonging and understanding. Schools have the potential to be beautiful, growth-oriented places of learning and healing. The 2021 Model Policies and HCPS’s interpretation of those policies moves our schools in the direction of belonging by encouraging inclusive practices in teaching and overall school culture, and by allowing schools to consider the aspects of a child’s social system that may hinder or enable their safety and growth, including their relationship to their parents/guardians.
I’m 38 now, still young-ish, and there are some things that young people do and feel today that I just don’t get, and that’s ok. So, in the moments when I’m struggling to understand young people’s pain and what they need from me to ease their suffering, I remind myself that I don’t have to fully agree with a generation to respond to their needs, especially when it costs me (us) so little.
Josh Diamond has worked in the areas of youth advocacy and development, healthy masculinity, community organizing, and popular education throughout Virginia. He lives with his spouse and two children in Harrisonburg, VA.