My name is Melissa Girmscheid, my pronouns are she/her.
This statement, I will admit, has taken practice to get used to. I spent years not seeing the need to declare what pronouns describe me while my first name is Melissa. It’s a feminine name, right? Why would anyone be confused about that?
Truth is, the statement isn’t for me, it’s not even for the people who may be addressing me. Stating my pronouns is an act of allyship, a demonstration that I understand personal identity is important.
What’s your personal identity? Me, I’m an extremely independent woman of science. I will do most anything as long as someone thinks I can’t, I write to-do lists that often include “make tomorrow’s to-do list,” and I will put myself on the line for a friend, often without forward thought. I’ve been married for twenty-two years to the same person who I drove to the airport with to spit off the parking garage after the Homecoming dance (sorry, Mom, that’s how that dress got ripped) my junior year and we have raised two fabulous now-adults.
This is me, no filter needed. I’ve known who I was since the age of five when I would dig up worms under the slide at recess.
My students know who they are, too. They might be working out the details, but the overall picture, they know. I’m privileged in that society sees me from the outside in the same way I see myself on the inside. I’m privileged in that my relationship with my husband is the societal expectation.
In a year when student mental health has become a topic worthy of primetime news snippets and op-eds, it is truly appalling that students, children under the age of 18, have become the target of policies simply because of their personal identity. Not because of their choices, but because of who they are. The Trevor Project, a nonprofit with the aim of reducing suicide amongst LGBTQ youth, found in its 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health that forty percent of respondents had seriously considered suicide in the past year. Forty. Percent. Why then have policymakers been quick to impose more policies that strip the rights and humanity of our LGBTQ youth?
A bill was recently passed through the Arizona Legislature, a bill that would make mention of LGBTQ events and persons something that requires a permission slip. Allow me to present an example from my own classroom. My personal professional goal this school year is to change my students’ perception of who does science. As such, each day I introduce a “Science Hero of the Day” on our bellwork with some data on that person and a link to an article they can read for more information. On September 15th, that person was Alan Turing. We spoke on Turing’s contributions to machine learning and victory in WWII and students were curious why they had not heard his name before. What should I have done? Told my students we could not talk about it? Tell them that his experiences, and theirs, do not matter?
The high school experience means academics, clubs, extracurricular activities, and athletics. My students deserve access to all of these, access to high quality academics, to a variety of clubs, to multiple extracurricular activities, and to the athletic experience. Athletics teach kids the value of hard work, of perseverance, and of mentorship. Athletics hone the mind as well as the body, preparing students for both loss and victory, and instilling the value of teamwork. Several states, Arizona included, are furthering bills that would prohibit transgender students (children, remember?) from participating in sports. More specifically, many of these bills prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. Proponents of such bills often opine that this would give those assigned male at birth a physical advantage over cisgender women. This is misogyny wrapped in transphobia. Suggesting that girls must somehow be protected because they are unable to compete for their spot on a team is, at best, insulting. Worried about locker room use? I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t care.
I have faith in the future because my students are wonderfully accepting. In the meantime, it’s up to the adults to make our world more inclusive. Start with your classroom. Organizations like The Trevor Project, Real Mama Bears and GLSEN have resources for educators to help make school more inviting for our LGBTQ students. Student organizations like Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) can assist students who wish to affect change in classrooms and on campuses.
Educators know our students become “our kids.” I refuse to stand by and be quiet while my kids are under attack for who they are. Please join me in making your classroom one of inclusion.
What can you do today to be a better ally for your LGBTQ students?