The Educating Children of Color Summit, an annual conference for students, parents and educators that focuses on best practices and equity and provides scholarship opportunities to students, will be held online this year due to COVID-19. Described by Harrison School District 2 Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel as “one of the best professional developments staff can have around equity,” the summit brings a host of nationally recognized speakers to address participants on topics such as implicit bias and microaggressions, racial justice and systemic racism. Willy Wilkinson, a California-based public health consultant and the author of Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency, will present a session on creating LGBTQ-affirming schools in the COVID era.
“As a trans elder who came out in the ’60s,” says Wilkinson, an Asian transgender man, “the world has changed a lot over the course of the last five decades. It’s great now that we do have quite a number of educators and health service providers who are supportive and affirming of trans young people. I’m happy to see there are a lot of people who want to do the best they can to create an affirming environment, particularly because we have such high suicidality, suicidal ideations, attempts and completion, within the population.”
In keeping with the theme of the summit, part of Wilkinson’s session will focus on how issues like sexual orientation and gender identity intersect with issues of race and ethnicity. “Of course people of color are experiencing multiple systems of oppression around race, ethnic identity, gender identity and expression and other issues,” he says. “Studies show that people who are assigned male at birth, Black boys, or gender non-conforming girls, those are the folks who are experiencing more disciplinary action at schools. When people are perceived as breaking rules around gender they’re experiencing multiple systems of oppression around being discriminated against by race, as well as gender and gender expression.” He cites national statistics from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which included 6,450 respondents. Seventy-eight percent had experienced harassment and discrimination in their K-12 education, plus high incidences of harassment, physical and sexual violence. “People of color are disproportionately impacted,” Wilkinson says.
Colorado’s Healthy Kids Survey on the health and well-being of young people and school health policies and practices affirms Wilkinson’s assessment. The 2019 survey found that of 11,062 students surveyed in 2019, 25.9 percent reported experiencing bullying due to race; 21.8 percent reported bullying due to sexual orientation; and 6.9 percent reported bullying due to gender identity.
Bullying and harassment have a profound impact on the educational outcomes of LGBTQ youths. “When people are not being referred to appropriately, when people are being misgendered in the classroom and not being recognized as the gender they identify with in terms of not being able to access gender-specific facilities and so forth, that leads to poor educational outcomes,” says Wilkinson. “That makes access to education very difficult for trans and gender expansive young people. That can contribute to many other issues that impact people throughout their lives. If people aren’t able to access quality and safe education, then that limits their ability to access employment, housing and health care, and that impacts people’s mental health. That impacts their quality of life throughout their life.”
The 14th annual Educating Children of Color Summit will take place Jan. 16. More at educatingchildrenofcolor.org.