Teacher and ‘fierce advocate’ praised for passionate speech defending trans kids

Dawn Riggs testifies against an anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ proposal by the Ohio state board of education

An Ohio teacher’s passionate speech supporting LGBTQ+ students has won hearts online as the state board of education tries to push anti-trans policies in the area.

Dawn Riggs, an educator with over three decades of experience, testified against an Ohio board of education resolution that would go directly against proposals from the US department of education to extend federal protections against discrimination to trans students

Riggs said she’s had “many trans and non-binary students” in her classes and described how many students told her that she provided a “safe space” for LGBTQ+ kids to be “their authentic selves”.

“They have shared stories about traumas they were experiencing outside my classroom from classmates, other teachers, family members,” Riggs said.

“They have told me about their cutting. They have told me about their suicidal thoughts, their depression and anxiety and wish to disappear.”

Dawn Riggs testifies against an anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ proposal by the Ohio state board of education

Dawn Riggs urged the Ohio board of education to “oppose this hateful and misguided” proposal, which would out LGBTQ+ students to their families. (The Ohio Channel)

Riggs said it “made a difference” to these students when they could walk into her classroom knowing they would be called by their chosen name and the pronouns that “reflected their lived experience”.

“Even if no other adult in their life affirmed their identity, they knew they would be safe for at least a little while each day,” she said. 

She added it is “no burden” to use the name or pronouns that a student prefers, adding: “If your friend William asked you to call him Billy, you don’t blink an eye.”

“The only difference between these examples and those opposed by this harmful resolution is the perception that a student’s gender does not fit your expectation of it,” Riggs said.

‘I urge you to oppose this hateful rhetoric’

Riggs also hit out at the Ohio board of education for considering a “horrifying” proposal which would allow schools to out trans students to their parents – potentially putting them in a dangerous situation if their families are unwilling to affirm their gender identity.

“Our students must be able to choose the time and the manner in which they share their transness and with whom,” Riggs said. “It is not our place to force them to do so. I urge you to oppose this hateful and misguided rhetoric.”

Numerous people praised Riggs for her passionate advocacy for LGBTQ+ students and for taking a stand against the hateful proposal. 

The Ohio board opposes federal law requiring schools to investigate claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Schools could risk losing funding if they do not comply with the law. 

The US department of education said these investigations could include incidents where someone doesn’t use a student’s correct pronouns; a trans student being denied the ability to use the facilities that correspond with their gender; or a student being banned from playing sports because of their gender identity. 

Parker Parker, a student who plays field hockey at Olentangy High School, said the resolution seeks to “strip” trans students of their “humanity” and “alienate” them for just wanting to be themselves. 

“If you banned me from the sport I love, I will lose a piece of my life. …If you take away my right to use the men’s restroom, I will experience hate,” Parker said.

“I will get stared at, laughed at by girls because I don’t look like them.”

The resolution is expected to be voted on by the Ohio state board of education’s next meeting on 11-12 October.

Readers affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans free on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.