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Tonight I testified before my local school board in response to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recent threats against trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive young people. It was important to me that I make a statement, even though Arlington has expressed (in writing and at tonight’s meeting) its commitment to affirming LGBTQIA+ students and upholding current policies respecting their rights and autonomy (for which I was grateful). In recent days I have joined Arlington Gender Identity Allies, stepped up to play a larger role in Equality UUCA, and participated in a webinar by Equality Virginia to learn more about advocating against Gov. Youngkin’s policy. The 30-day public comment period for this policy begins on September 26. You can submit comments here.

Here’s my testimony:

Testimony before the APS School Board | September 22, 2022 | Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso 

Good evening members of the school board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso. I’ve lived in Arlington for 25 years and have two children in APS. I am a fierce ally of LGBTQIA+ children and youth.

I applaud Arlington for being one of only 13 school boards to fully adopt the 2020 VDOE Model Policy for the Treatment of Transgender Students, which enabled students to go by their chosen names and pronouns in school and use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Now Governor Youngkin wants to reverse the progress we’ve made in affirming our gender expansive kids. His newly proposed policies undermine young people’s autonomy, self-expression, and safety. What the governor wants to do is at best dangerous and at worst, a matter of life and death. 

In a recent survey by the Trevor Project of approximately 35,000 LGBTQIA+ youth, nearly half reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year. More than half of those respondents identified as trans or nonbinary. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Honoring someone’s gender identity is vital to preventing suicide. 

Trans and nonbinary young people are much less likely to experience serious mental health challenges or consider suicide when they are called by their chosen names and pronouns. Such a simple, yet deeply affirming act can be life saving. Not surprisingly, young people whose families are supportive of their identities are also less likely to struggle. Unfortunately, only one in three respondents to the Trevor Project survey said they live in a gender-affirming household. So for many of these young people, school becomes their safe haven–a place where trusted friends and caring adults fully value and respect them. Gov. Youngkin’s proposed policy would take away that sanctuary, increasing the likelihood that our young people could experience rejection in–or even ejection from–their own homes. 

Immediately after I learned of the governor’s proposal, I reached out to APS to ensure our schools would continue to uphold welcoming, affirming, and inclusive policies. I was heartened to receive emails both from Dr. Durán and our school principal reiterating their commitment to supporting trans and nonbinary students. I’ve seen firsthand what it means to gender expansive kids when their humanity–which absolutely includes their gender identity–is embraced and uplifted, and the devastation that can result when they are treated as less than whole, and who they are is disrespected, discouraged, and dismissed. It is up to us to do the right thing–to protect our kids and make sure they know they are loved for who they are.

I would rather be a Chimpanzee Mom raising smart, kind, affectionate, and socially adept children than a Tiger Mother as Amy Chua describes herself in her much-discussed new memoir.

I believe my children can be high achievers in school without my screaming and threatening. My parents never screamed or threatened and I was always on the honor roll. I believe there are other ways of motivating, encouraging, and rewarding children without berating them.

One value overlooked in the excerpt (I admit I have not read the whole book) is kindness, which I believe to be important. How can I expect my children to possess empathy and demonstrate kindness to others if I am not empathetic and kind to them? That doesn’t mean I don’t have rules or don’t enforce them. It doesn’t mean I never get angry. But principally I want to treat my children with kindness and respect because that’s how I want to be treated and I want them to learn that from me.

To make your way in the world today requires more than just intelligence and hard work. You need to be able to make friends and forge meaningful relationships. I suppose Chua prohibits playdates, sleepovers, and participation in school plays and other noncompetitive extracurriculars because they take time away that could be spend studying and drilling and practicing. But I’d like my children to enjoy getting to know people, learn how to navigate social situations, and figure out how to make good decisions about who to spend time with and how to spend their time without my complete control. If I don’t allow this to happen now, how will they know how to behave and interact when they’re on their own at college or later?

Chua’s assertion that most rankled me was her perception that Western parents believe their children are fragile instead of strong and treat them as such. I believe my daughter is strong, but also human. She is not invulnerable to pain or hurt. I believe I have a lot to teach her, and sometimes it’s hard to get kids to do what you want them to do even when you know it’s right, and they get upset. I know my daughter is strong and resilient enough to learn from mistakes and correction and go forward. But I don’t need to test her strength by insulting her, calling her names, or inflicting punishments that far outweigh her transgressions.

Finally, I don’t want my house to be a warzone or my family combatants. If I make myself miserable by railing wildly on my daughter until she perfects something she’s struggling with, I’ll make her miserable too. We’ll both be miserable. I’m sure my husband will be made miserable in the process. That doesn’t mean I won’t push and encourage her to do her best. It doesn’t mean I won’t expect excellence when I know it’s within her reach. But creating a culture of crazy isn’t going to help us achieve anything, except new heights of craziness. Maybe that worked for Chua, but it’s not the way I want to raise my family.

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