A Closer Look

Advocacy in the Face of Adversity

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I recently presented a webinar, True Colors Shining Bright: WAIPER Schools for LGBTQIA+ Youth, Staff, and Families. The virtual audience was receptive and engaged, and I signed off with the anticipated passion and renewed hope I have after working with affirming adults. However, just days later, I saw the news all over Twitter and the internet: “Youngkin Administration Overhauls Virginia Transgender Student Policies.” This “model” policy specifically states it is intended to reverse the empirically validated, truly model policy we worked so hard for and were able to implement after state law required it. I searched ferociously, and I read what I could stomach. I fired off emails to several superintendents and media outlets. I contacted Senator Kaine’s office. I commiserated with colleagues. And then I sat down and wept.

Since then, I’ve been writing letters and speeches, advising parents, and reassuring students. I’ve asked my administrators the hard questions I know they won’t answer:

  1. What will you do to keep transgender and gender diverse students safe? This generation of youth is more politically informed and aware than I can wrap my head around. These kids know their basic human rights have been challenged by the state department of education, and even worse, the state has used fancy words which make the policy reversal seem like it’s in the best interest of “all” children and families. Fancy words and catch phrases are smoke and mirrors of deception.
  2. How will you defend staff who continue to act in the best interest of students, who are consistent with professional ethics but now in violation of impending policy? I can do what’s right and risk losing my job, or I can follow guidance and risk losing my certification/license.

After decades in this field, I did my research. I found home in a district that prioritizes mental health and embraces diversity. My district was among the first in the state to have trans-inclusive policies. While they still need work, they’re better than others and at a minimum they do not put students at risk. Now my state is joining the ranks of other southern states in stripping gender diverse students of their rights to exist. It’s horrific.

So, I want to end this blog how I began the webinar:

"[This isn’t] about the law and focusing on how this is a scary time for LGBTQIA+ youth. Yes, there are laws coming down which aim to strip transgender youth of their basic right to exist and to keep supportive professionals from recognizing a student’s humanity. But this is not that inservice. Today we’re going to focus on what we CAN do, not what others are trying to tell us we can’t do. The rainbow itself, which has become synonymous with and representative of the LGBTQIA+ community, literally comes from the light breaking through a storm. Change comes from defeat. Progress is born from pushback. It’s not good yet, but it gets better.”

So, what can we do?

  1. We can remind students that we see them, hear them, value them, honor them, respect them, and love them. This will not change. It cannot change.
  2. We should remind students that we can promise our own behavior, but not that of others.
  3. We can remind students that they are deserving of love and affirmation and that attempts to strip them of such are based in ignorance and fear.
  4. We can remind students that they cannot and will not be erased.
  5. We can remind students that for most of these policies, staff will continue to stand up and push back against hatred in support of them. We will not surrender.

About the Author

Amy Cannava
Amy Cannava is in her 18th year of practice as a school psychologist specializing in minoritized youth. Having spent the majority of her career serving secondary schools, Amy makes time for needed counseling supports which students frequently require. Early in her career she recognized the stress and anxiety students experience and began providing psycho-educational supports to students, parents, and staff on understanding the evolutionary reasons for anxiety and how to tackle such head-on. She is Chair of NASP’s LGBTQI2-S Committee and a requested speaker at local and national conferences. She consults with school districts, group homes, juvenile justice facilities, universities, and parents on affirmative and inclusive practices for queer and gender diverse youth; facilitates LGBTQ+ peer support and counseling groups; and volunteers for numerous local Boards. Amy is the faculty sponsor for her high school’s GSA and is the community sponsor for a cross-county Pride Prom which garnered national attention. A former crisis counselor for The Trevor Project, she credits much of her clinical expertise to their amazing professional development and supervision.