My eldest grandson loved to play basketball. As a family, his siblings and I loved to watch him run up and down the court giving the game his all.
Unfortunately, in his senior year of high school, Lance left the sport he loved so much. He wasn’t physically injured or taken off the team due to bad grades. He decided to walk away because as a young transgender man, he was the subject of taunting, bullying and harassment from his teammates, and even his coach, every time he went into his high school locker room.
As a boy, it made sense to us that he would use the boy’s locker room. It’s where he felt safest and most comfortable. But like too many other transgender youth across the country, Lance was forced to use the locker room with his former female teammates — denying him the dignity, respect and sense of security that every child deserves in school. It took a toll on Lance, and he finally made the heartbreaking decision that it was better to give up his passion than to be subjected to taunts and embarrassment any longer.
Even after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act in 2013, which required schools to allow students to use the bathrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, I learned from Lance that his high school wasn’t doing a good job accommodating students like him.
During his senior year, the school did provide a separate all-gender bathroom, but it was kept locked and Lance was required to go into the office and ask for a key.
“It was embarrassing, Grandma. And the looks they would give you — I didn’t want to use it” Lance said to me. So he kept using the boy’s bathroom, but for his safety, I asked his brother to accompany Lance.
It was devastating to find out how many students like Lance have the same experiences. In fact, 70 percent of transgender people who participated in a survey commissioned by UCLA’s Williams Institute said they have been denied access to the bathroom, verbally harassed or even physically attacked.
Too often, conversations about civil rights for transgender people are focused on how policies might affect everyone around them. Treating people fairly and equally harms no one, but denying transgender people access to facilities that match their gender identity robs them of the dignity, respect and safety we all deserve.
Recently, I learned about a program called Everybody Changes, which trains employees working at Southern California pools, gyms and public locker rooms to make sure these facilities are safe, accessible and inclusive for the transgender and nonbinary people who use them. The program goes over topics like using proper names and pronouns, as well as the consequences of anti-trans discrimination and misgendering.
A program like this would have meant the world for Lance. It would have meant the adults and teachers charged with caring for our children would have had the tools and training they needed to provide a safe and supportive space for all young people — including those who are transgender.
It would have spared me the agonizing morning ritual of reminding Lance’s younger brother to make sure he was never alone when his older brother needed to use the bathroom — all the while worrying what might happen to him if he was.
It would have meant another small but important step forward for Lance on his journey to living as his authentic self. And it would have given him the chance to pursue the sport he loved so much.