by Hylah Daly, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
February 23, 2023
I grew up in a trailer park. When my mom lost her car, we had to walk over an hour every week to the grocery store. When we couldn’t afford to pay the utility bill, my family and I had to live without electricity in the cold. Numerous students in my district faced the same problems that I did. Yet even at school, where student success should be determined by work ethic, not household income level, I saw that my Title-1 school still couldn’t provide us with the resources we needed to succeed.
My experiences are not uncommon. Across Georgia, students are asking for additional funding to support students living in poverty and adequate counseling services to meet the growing need for mental health support in the wake of the pandemic.
Despite these genuine issues young people face daily, my friends and I now have to fight for other fundamental rights– the right for LGBTQ+ students to be accepted, included and respected in their identity.
Although lawmakers have an opportunity to address poverty and revise an inequitable funding formula, they have instead decided to criminalize the health and well-being of our trans classmates and prohibit discussion of gender and sexuality in a way that will have a chilling effect on teacher’s ability to support some of their most vulnerable students.
Earlier this year, my friends and I made our needs clear to legislators. We asked for funding for social workers who could support struggling students. We told them how our bathrooms were moldy and how we had to bring toilet paper in our backpacks because our schools lacked the funding to provide us with necessities.
Instead of making school a safe place for transgender students where they feel comfortable, politicians decided to make life even more challenging for them by pushing through a series of anti-LGBTQ bills. This systematic discrimination doesn’t only affect LGBTQ+ students, but all of us, and threatens our very right to an adequate public education.
To be subject to a constant wave of unnecessary, hateful, deadly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation when there is so much work to be done to improve the lives of all Georgians is the most profound betrayal of the values of empathy, understanding, and community we all share.
When legislators prioritize alienating and ostracizing trans students through deadly legislation, they signal to our communities that hurting the most vulnerable among us is okay and even encouraged. School should be a place where every student can learn and grow without discrimination or bullying- not where we walk the halls in fear of what will happen to us because of how we identify, and teachers feel pressured to ignore our struggles.
Finishing high school, in many ways, felt like a sigh of relief, not an accomplishment. I grew tired of hearing hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments spread around at my school. I grew tired of going to school in fear of what will happen to me because of how I identify. Being a student in high school shouldn’t feel draining: it’s in the classroom where every student can discover who they are without fearing discrimination or bullying.
Often, this burden is heavier because our school lacks the funds or resources to help protect LGBTQ+ students in any meaningful capacity. While thousands of children and families like mine are shutting off their heat in the winter and walking miles to school and work, politicians focus more on culture war issues.
It’s time lawmakers quit targeting marginalized kids who already face so much prejudice. Georgians do not want our elected officials to pass laws that will hurt their neighbors; young people adamantly oppose legislation that will harm their classmates.
It’s time for our elected officials to stop ignoring medical experts, interfering in teacher’s lesson plans, and putting our children in danger and start focusing on the real issues young people and their families need: well-resourced, well-funded schools made safe by supportive counselors and well-paid teachers. I want to live in a state where students– no matter their race, class, gender, or sexuality– can go to a school where all students can thrive inside and outside the classroom. It’s what we deserve.
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