April 20, 2012 was a National Day of Silence. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), created the "Day of Silence" to remind people that anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) bullying, harassment and name-calling occurs every day in schools across the country. As a parent of a transgender child, I have often had to comfort and help my daughter heal when she faced bullying, harassment and discrimination at an early age. I am hopeful that someday she will forget it happened.
When I talk about Nicole's bullying and harassment experiences, most people are shocked and supportive, some are uncomfortable that transgender kids are in their schools and a few suggest that bullying and harassment are still a right of passage to be endured, something that makes a child stronger. When I hear this I get a lump in my throat, I try to think of a proper response. I try to find a common starting point, to help them understand, to hopefully to sway their opinion. I often tell them this story.
When the twins were eleven, we moved to a new town where they could attend a new, hopefully safe and accepting middle school. As I packed, I was constantly reminded that I had to return to our original home and job -- I would become a weekend dad. The day finally came to pick up the rental truck. There was no turning back. From the very start it was a chore, almost like a bad dream. I never thought I would have to move my family in this manner.
After unloading, I looked across the street as my kids lugged their toys into an old crappy apartment and I thought, "They should not have to give up so much and I cannot reveal that I am worried and mad." As I shut the truck door I was hopeful that things will be better here and the kids could forget and move on with their lives. Maybe there would be no more mention of bullies, but I was wrong.
A few weeks later, I took the kids to a high school football game. It was a beautiful fall night and for the first time I could enjoy a game without worrying what might be said to the kids or worse. I did not have to be on edge, looking for the whispers or wondering what was going to happen next.
At half time we watched the cheerleaders, and during a break in their routine, Nicole looked at me and said, "Being transgender is really hard." I knew this usually means there was something wrong. She went on to say, "Transgender kids quit school, they commit suicide and they are killed." As I heard the crowd cheering the home team coming back on the field, our joyful evening was over. I looked in her eyes and saw her pain. I realized she could not forget the past and she was worried about the future. I was fighting back the tears and wondered, what do I say now?
I hugged her and said, "Some transgender kids do not have parents that love, accept and support them. Some parents may not have the resources or support needed to protect them. You have parents that love you very much, support you and are extremely proud of you. We will always be there for you. We will always protect you at home and at school."
I hugged her again and said, "That does not mean there are not people out there that might hurt you. You have to be very careful. You have to watch where you go, and whom you go with at all times. Never go anywhere alone." My son, Jonas, showed up and asked, "what's up?" We smiled and said "Nothing." The kids started to watch the game; I silently fought back the tears, wondering how many transgender children in this world are thinking the same things that Nicole is thinking.
Every time I see cheerleaders I am reminded of my conversation with Nicole and I am disappointed that other families are still having the same conversations. I am extremely saddened that there is still so much work to be done. We need to provide more opportunities to educate our schools and communities. Parents and communities need to speak out and say, "This has to stop!" The perception of bullying as a "right of passage" and ignoring what is going on in our schools must end.
Going to that game should have been a fond memory, not one that is now etched in my brain as a regret. Listening to Nicole that night in the bleachers was another defining moment. I knew then I was not working hard enough to help stop bullying and harassment in our schools. We all need to work harder. We need to demand real change in our schools and in our communities. Please get involved to help bring new and improved programs to your schools.
The National Day of Silence is one day each year to help remind us all to do more. These children do not need reminders, they will never forget how much the bullying and harassment has hurt them. We need to stop the pain.