With the body politic in a constant state of agitation, so much so that we’re not sure how its members will hold themselves together until November, it is with a sense of appreciation that we comment on a controversy that wasn’t: the Dresden School Board’s adoption of a policy regarding transgender students’ access to bathrooms and sports teams — and their right to be treated respectfully.
That this came to be without rancor gives a glimmer of hope about progress on this issue, which is lagging in certain hot spots of resistance, such as North Carolina. Last spring it banned students from using bathrooms that don’t match the gender assigned to them at birth. There is a history of conservative legislatures embracing “culture war” issues in election years, even though they are losing the battles and the war as well.
Students at Hanover High School have been discussing this matter for several years in a relatively low-key fashion. Staff writer Rob Wolfe recounted how Hanover grad Lilly Cadow, now a college student, initiated the talk when she felt her sophomore year health class didn’t provide enough information about non-heterosexual sexuality. That inspired her to enlist others to seek change.
The new policy, developed by high school students, “requires that all programs, activities and employment practices be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” It meets guidelines set by the New Hampshire School Boards Association, the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama administration. When the School Board adopted the policy earlier this month, it drew only one question from a board member: whether it would create any conflicts regarding school athletics. The answer was in the negative — it is in line with the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s policies.
The new policy requires that students respect their classmates’ identities, including using the pronoun they desire. While policies cannot control what people believe in their hearts, young people seem to be ahead of society in general in embracing differences, something that cheers us about the future.
Henry Lang, a Hanover senior and moderator of the school council, which is mostly comprised of students, said there was lots of student engagement on the issue. “I think our whole school learned a lot about acceptance and understanding,” he said.
At least a couple lessons stand out from this successful policy shift. First, since it originated with students, they had an opportunity to discuss the issue from the earliest stages. That’s an ideal way to initiate change — something applicable to people of all ages.
Second, change often takes time and commitment. In this age of social media, many expect to settle matters with a thousand likes on Facebook. But lasting change is still a grinding process that can test the patience of advocates.
In the Dresden district, that process has reached a good end that will afford transgender students dignity, respect and an acknowledgement of their right to be included fully in school life. We look forward to the day when our entire society matches these ideals.