MSEA should advocate for safe schools for our transgender kids, not defend slurs in plays

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We, the undersigned, are parents of transgender and gender non-conforming children.

Our children regularly suffer bullying, harassment , and sometimes even violence, at the hands of their fellow students at school. We look to educators to protect them and to provide a safe environment for learning and being their authentic selves.

We were appalled to learn that a fellow mama bear, Nicola van Kuilenburg,  was recently terminated from her position with the Maryland State Education Association for asking that a transphobic slur be removed from a school play. 

The word 'tranny' should NEVER be used in schools especially without educational context and because of that it thankfully has been removed from many recent productions of the play Shrek. We know this because many educators have worked with us to remove it. 

We are also horrified to learn that Nicola was told that, instead of speaking up and asking for the word to be removed, she should simply have prevented her trans son from attending the play as it was not a 'mandatory' field trip.


Firstly, as a tax paying parent, Nicola should always have the right to be involved in her child's education and to advocate for his safety and well being. We cannot imagine the cruelty of an employer who would require their employees to hand over their parental rights the moment they sign their employment contracts. How does this not  strongly contradict the union values MSEA/NEA claims to support?

Secondly, Nicola was advocating for the well being of ALL transgender and gender non-conforming students in her school district.  It is our understanding that she spoke out because others  (educators and students/parents) were afraid to. She was their voice. A voice much needed. A voice that has now been silenced. 

Thirdly, and most disturbing, is the idea that a union for educators would argue AT ALL that a parent should keep her transgender child away from public school opportunities. Our children have the right to participate fully in their education and your argument strongly echos that of the 'separate but equal' arguments previously used to deny children of color access to education. 

In 2018 a union for educators should be working hard for our children to be included, not excluded from some parts of school due to their gender identity.  Our children are not inconveniences or too sensitive.  We fail to comprehend why you would wish to prevent James, or any transgender student, from attending a musical production as a solution to not hearing a slur.  Many of our children cannot safely access correct bathroom facilities or locker rooms at school due to their gender identity. IS MSEA/NEA ARGUING THEY SHOULD ALSO BE DENIED ACCESS TO THE ARTS?

We are disappointed that your justification for terminating Nicola includes arguing for the right of a school system in general, and for a non- member teacher in particular, to use hate speech in a play. If the teachers union will not stand up for our kids who will?

For the last few years we have cheered the National Education Association and its affiliates for its work for LGB and particularly Transgender students. Everyday our children count on their educators to advocate for them and to make their learning environment affirming and safe. But there is still a long way to go and sadly there are educators, your members, who harm our children by refusing to use correct pronouns and names and allowing bullying to go unchecked. Is it your priority to provide defense of their actions or are you willing to protect our children by allowing us to hold the education system accountable when harm is being done?

It is impossible to see how terminating a parent for working to improve learning conditions could possibly benefit our vulnerable children. Instead you have sent a clear message that you support discrimination over safety and that your focus will always be on defending and justifying the right for educators to provide unsafe spaces. 

We are therefore calling on you to reinstate Nicola van Kuilenburg immediately and to commit to doing the difficult work necessary to provide welcoming and affirming school experiences for our children. Our children's well being and in some cases, lives, depend on it.