GUEST BLOG: Every Student Deserves the Right to Feel Safe in School

By: Dr. Rachel L. Levine, Physician General

February 24, 2017

The decision by the Trump administration to roll back the most basic protections for transgender and gender expansive youth is heartbreaking. As Governor Wolf has said, “We are not this” decision. Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school. This decision unfairly targets students who already face increased incidences of bullying and harassment and are at greater risk for substance abuse and suicide.

As a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, the health and wellbeing of young people has been the focus of my career. Young people do better when they feel supported by their family and their community. A positive school environment is one of the cornerstones of this support and this decision threatens that support.

The medical literature is clear that transgender and gender expansive youth that are raised in a supportive and nurturing environment at home and at school do very well. Transgender and gender expansive youth that face resistance at home and bullying and harassment at school have greater mental health problems including substance use, depression and suicide.

Every day, valiant students walk the school halls as forced activists of what has become one of the most contentious issues of our time. This decision is much more about young people’s lives then about politics and bathrooms. It’s about young people learning math and history while planning a prom and finalizing a college essay. It’s about the many parents, teachers, principals and school boards who have stood by young people to extend protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It goes back to one of the first lessons we all teach our children – treat others the way you would like to be treated.

To Pennsylvania’s transgender and gender expansive youth and their families who are worried or concerned, I want you to know that Governor Wolf’s administration has your back. The Wolf Administration will continue to advocate for policies that are inclusive and support our LGBTQ community. In 2016, Governor Wolf signed two executive orders that extend workplace protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who work for the commonwealth or a contractor hired by the commonwealth. The Wolf Administration expanded Medicaid coverage to cover medically-necessary gender confirmation treatment and issued guidance to commercial issuers to ensure they can no longer discriminate based on gender identity or expression. The Department of Education established the Office for Safe Schools’ Bullying Prevention Consultation Line (1-866-716-0424) – a toll-free number that allows individuals experiencing chronic and unresolved bullying to discuss effective strategies and available resources to deal with school-based bullying.

Regardless of your race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, the Wolf Administration believes you have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity. We will do everything that we can to be sure Pennsylvania remains a place where everyone feels welcome and where every student has a safe and nurturing environment to learn.


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