12 May 2014

Can A Child Be "Outed" For Her Own Good?

I think that, by now, most people would agree that it's wrong to "out" an LGBT person who is harming no one else. 

But how do you discourage kids from bullying a trans classmate--or encourage those same kids' parents to be good examples of tolerance and honesty for their kids--without "outing" the classmate in question?

That's a question a school district in Missouri had to answer when someone who was born a boy was returning to school as a girl.  School and district officials said they were interested in ensuring the child's safety and ability to learn. 

Officials in Raytown sent a letter to parents informing them about the transgender child. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools are not allowed to release most information about a child without the consent of the child's parents. Exempt from this ban are "directory" information, such as a student's name, address, phone number and date of birth, which can be released without consent. However, the school or district must provide ample warning of the release to allow the parent(s) enough time to request that the information not be released.

However, as you can imagine, there's "gray area" in the law. While a student's name may fall under the category of "directory" information, it's not clear whether the student's gender--which, some would argue, is part of a student's medical history--also falls into that category.

Whether or not "outing" the student was legal, let alone ethical, the fact remains that the student was outed. What will be the result? Will the release of information help to prevent her from being bullied, as school and district officials claim. Or will it make her more vulnerable, not only to bullying and other kinds of harassment, but also to other kinds of exploitation?