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“I was told I had to stop being that advocate, and I had to go back into the closet because it wasn’t really safe,” the teacher recalled. “You could be fired.”
On Thursday, Foster reflected on how far the country has progressed, he said, as dozens of kindergarten students sat cross-legged in his classroom at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, listening as an advocate for transgender rights paged through a children’s picture book about a transgender girl.
“I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way,” the advocate, Sarah McBride, read to the students from the storybook “I Am Jazz.”
McBride, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, who drew national attention when she came out as transgender the day after her term as American University’s student body president ended, wanted to relay a message of tolerance on a national day of reading led by the country’s largest teachers union.
“For young people, being kind and being respectful is quite simple,” she said. “LGBTQ young people are their classmates, their friends. They may be LGBTQ themselves. And so, this just makes sense. No one’s ever too young to learn to be nice.”
Students throughout the country were expected to participate in the National Education Association’s annual Read Across America Day. It was the first time the union partnered with the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBT civil rights.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the union, said the support was especially urgent because the Trump administration has reversed guidance intended to protect transgender students.
“We have seen a complete, literal rollback of the protections for students, especially transgender students,” said García, who also read to students. “The Trump administration has been openly hostile, whether or not you’re a transgender soldier or a transgender little boy or little girl. It is more important than ever before that we speak out.”
Shortly after President Trump took office, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, who was attorney general at the time, rescinded Obama-era guidance that directed schools to allow students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Some parents and students fear privacy and safety are endangered by accommodating transgender students in school restrooms.