ST. GEORGE — A nationwide energy company said it is teaming up with a Utah nonprofit organization to ensure all students, regardless of gender identity, are given equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom.
Dominion Energy, which has nearly 7.5 million customers in 18 states and serves the Southern Utah area, announced it is donating $10,000 to Transgender Education Advocates of Utah. TEA Executive Director Candice Metzler told St. George News donations like this are imperative to the work volunteers are doing behind the scenes.
“This money will increase our ability to be effective in going out to places and starting to have more conversations with various school districts and various policy makers that can help us maybe improve things for the gender non-conforming and transgender students of our state,” she said.
Donations like the most recent one from Dominion Energy help the organization in their efforts to draft policy and work within schools.
“It gives us, more or less, the financial means to do that work,” Metzler said. “I think a lot of what we’ve been struggling with in the past in addressing the needs that are out there is just the financial ability to do a lot of that work.”
The organization, based in Salt Lake City, was founded in 2003 and officially earned its nonprofit designation seven years later.
Since then, the entity has been working with various government organizations and school districts around the state to create policy that supports transgender youth and ensure they have the same opportunities as their peers.
“A lot of the times, we find out about parents who are struggling with their child, looking for a school where they can take their child to be safe because their child is being bullied often because they’re gender non-conforming, they’re not what society expects,” she said.
Metzler said TEA has met with school officials to speak to the dangers and struggles transgender youth face each and every day, especially in schools.
According to GLSEN, a national organization against discrimination in education based on sexual orientation and gender identity, 76% of transgender students nationwide feel unsafe at school. Their National School Climate Survey also found another 65% experienced verbal harassment, while 25% have been physically harassed and 12% have been physically assaulted due to their gender expression.
Transgender students who experience discrimination at school are also at a greater risk for homelessness and suicide, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equity.
“This work is more than trying to address policies, it’s trying to address what is a significant component of the suicide component in Utah and has been,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about in this state.”
The key to finding an amicable solution is through building relationships, Metzler said, which is exactly what the organization is doing.
Throughout the years, TEA has joined with school administrators, teachers and parents to ensure students — especially gender non-conforming students — are treated with dignity and given safe spaces to learn and grow.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to make school safer for their children to go to school and address some of these issues, like bullying and people being — in some cases — threatened or even assaulted for being gender non-conforming,” she said.
More specifically, Metzler said, TEA is working to create policies that not only ensure students have a place to go when they’re feeling unsafe but that they also know where that place is. This might include establishing personnel in schools that are designated and have the experience necessary to work with at-risk students or transgender youth.
A large part of the policies the organization is trying to create would ensure students have safe access to facilities every student needs to be successful in Utah schools, including restrooms and places to change.
“There needs to be a series of things that acknowledge and address this problem in Utah,” Metzler said. “It’s a population that continues to fall through the cracks in significant and concerning ways.”
TEA, which can be found at www.teaofutah.org, also helps gender non-conforming and transgender Utahns with employment, healthcare, identifying documents, housing and public accommodations as well as speaking out against the violent hate crimes against transgender residents.
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