Kieran Chase, the Transgender Justice Program Manager at Basic Rights Oregon, provided testimony to the Scappoose School Board about the importance of the book George and its impact on transgender youth. Their testimony is below:
Good evening. My name is Kieran Chase. I’m a staff member at Basic Rights Oregon and a transgender Oregonian. Basic Rights Oregon is the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. We’ve been working for more than twenty years to ensure that all LGBTQ people in Oregon experience legal and lived equality. I am here tonight to stand in community with transgender children and their families that you see in this room, as I do every day in my work for Basic Rights.
I am also here because I grew up in a town the size of Scappoose, and I know the impact the book George might have had for me when I was in elementary school.
In the book, there is a moment when the protagonist, Melissa, shares with her best friend Kelly that “sometimes transgender people don’t get rights”. She had read on the internet about transgender people being treated unfairly. I must admit that this line in the book made me cry. This wonderful book is intended for children and their families. The story helps children who are not transgender learn more about what it feels like to live in a world that refuses to acknowledge who we are.
Because the book is meant for children, it does not dive into the deep and painful truth that more than 40% of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in our lives, largely due to rejection from our families and communities. It does not address the fact that Melissa may face violence for being herself. It doesn’t touch on the likelihood that when Melissa enters the workforce, she will be fired—or not hired in the first place—because she is transgender. The book simplifies these realities with a quick statement—that sometimes, transgender people don’t get rights.
But these are the realities that I and my fellow transgender Oregonians face every single day as we navigate discrimination on the part of doctors, landlords, employers, classmates, teachers, and our own families.
These are the realities that any nine-year-old transgender girl will learn about in addition to figuring out who she is. And these painful realities are precisely the reason the book George is so important: by expanding kids’ understanding of people different from themselves, we begin to build a world where transgender people are welcome.
In 2016, the Oregon Department of Education issued guidelines for supporting transgender students in Oregon’s public schools. In those guidelines, which I’ve printed out for you, they quote Oregon law in saying that “Students may not be subjected to discrimination in any public […] education program or service, school or interschool activity.”
In the 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 4% of 8th graders and 5% of 11th graders in Columbia County identified themselves as transgender or gender diverse. Those students and their families are watching and listening as you make this decision.
I’m here tonight to make sure you are aware that the decision to remove a book about a transgender child on the basis that your school district does not wish to promote “gender confusion” is discriminatory.
And regardless of any other stated rationale for removing this book, your decision will send the message to transgender children in your district and across the state that their lives and identities are “inappropriate” and that they are not welcome in your classrooms.
Basic Rights Oregon strongly encourages you to vote in support of your transgender students, and all their peers who deserve a richer understanding of everyone in their community. Please vote NO on this proposal. Thank you.
If you’re interested in joining the Fierce Families Network to support transgender family members and loved ones, please click here to sign up!