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ARROW Projects discusses impacts of gender policies and the debate surrounding them

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - School boards across the Valley have been discussing state mandated policies to prevent discrimination based on gender identity.

Taking those steps can go a long way in helping students feel more secure and mentally available to learn.

“Students in more inclusive schools have a lot to look forward to in terms of a less stressful environment and an environment where their identities are normalized, just like the evidence suggests they should be,” Dr. Charles Shepard, Clinical Director of the ARROW Project, said.

But not everyone in the community supports the adoption of these policies.

“People are behaving in a way that is threatening. They’re behaving in a way that is adversarial, and even if it’s not directed at a certain person, there are people watching that can apply that behavior to them, and they can say like, if I were in this room, this would be a person that would be coming after me,” Dr. Shepard said.

Dr. Shepard says many of the concerns that have been voiced about the policies are that students could fake a gender identity to attack other children in vulnerable spaces like restrooms or locker rooms.

But Dr. Shepard says those fears should not be tied to the transgender community.

“That’s not a problem with being transgender. That’s a problem with toxic masculinity and predatory behavior,” Dr. Shepard said. “Perhaps people who are interested in the safety of our children would better accomplish their goal by affirming gender identity across the board and addressing concerns to minimize or eliminate predatory behavior.”

The debates happening over the policies can lead to many students feeling unsafe and unwelcome in schools.

Dr. Shepard notes that discrimination toward LGBTQ students in general has led to 71 percent of them feeling hopeless and 39 percent having considered suicide. He adds that evidence also shows that 90 percent of teachers have witnessed some type of discriminatory practice against LGBTQ students.

“I really encourage people to kind of take a step back, kind of evaluate their behavior based on their own values and really investigate what’s out there to help guide them to align their behavior and their values,” Dr. Shepard said. “Christianity in its purest form is about liberating the oppressed and serving the people that are suffering. It seems to be in juxtaposition to what is actually happening at these board meetings.”

Anyone hoping to learn more about the issue or wanting someone affirming to talk to, Dr. Shepard recommends starting with reaching out to the LGBTQ Center in Staunton. There are peer to peer support groups for youth and adults and parents.

Other resources for affirming counseling include the ARROW Project, Allied Transformations, Augusta Psychological Associates and Valley Hope among others.

“In many cases, it’s very low cost or free, so the barriers to really understanding this issue and finding ways to alleviate suffering rather than causing are really minimal, and I highly encourage people seek out those resources,” Dr. Shepard said.

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