Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw’s refusal to intervene in a dispute between the Providence Secondary School and the family of a transgender girl has disappointed a well-known advocate, who claims to have been aware of her own sexuality from the tender age of five.
Alexa Hoffman, who has openly challenged Barbados’ laws against same-sex intimacy has warned Government that the recent case of a 14-year-old born as a male who identifies as a female is not isolated and predicts that authorities could find themselves dealing with similar issues sooner rather than later.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Hoffman, who attended a local public school said the issue of sexual identity was not confined to ‘elite’ society and argued that contrary to popular belief, children should be included in conversations about sexual identity and encouraged to explore their own.
“It’s a bit disappointing that the Minister of Education would decide that the ministry is not touching this matter at all because it can be used as a learning opportunity. Let’s face it, the LGBTQ community is not only something that happens among the social elite. It doesn’t happen among the richer classes only and it’s not just some foreign concept. It is very universal and everybody in every country experiences it on all social classes, whether you’re dirt poor or filthy rich,” she said.
The 25-year old said: “I went to a public primary school and a public secondary school and I’ve identified as a woman for more than 20 years. I do not exist in a vacuum and that child at the private school does not exist in a vacuum either. There are many others like us who will come into the school system and may not feel comfortable wearing a particular uniform. Whether it’s a trans girl or a trans boy, they may come into the school system and wish to transition or may already not be comfortable with wearing a specific uniform associated with a specific sex.”
The activist admitted her own growth was hindered and suppressed by a society that was not yet ready to accept her sexual identity.
“I can at least put my first recollection of having a challenge with gender identity at least 20 years. So going through primary and secondary school, I would have identified as a female. But because there were no conversations about it… there was no opportunity for me to be able to understand myself until my late teenage years. As a result, I would have had to grow up with a lot of social anxieties, ostracism, and confusion because they would have kept the conversation out of the way.
“So to say you shouldn’t confuse a child with discussions over differing self-determination and identities is really an insult to that child’s intelligence….just like we say with sexual education that if you don’t sit down and talk about it at home, they’re going to go out there and get the wrong information. The same thing applies to sexual identity, orientation, and gender expression,” she argued.
The issue came to the fore after a Canadian mother residing in Barbados launched an online petition challenging Providence’s decision to prevent her ‘daughter’ from wearing female attire.
On Wednesday, the Education Minister made clear she did not intend to intervene, while acknowledging the issue of transgendered children was one of many which the ministry needed to address.
“You have to have that discussion,” Hoffman said while urging Government officials not to “bury their heads in the sand”.
“It would do the Ministry of Education some good to observe the matter at the very least, rather than say they’re not getting involved in that at all. They may say they are going to limit their involvement…and if it is not within their purview to intervene in the actual goings-on then fine. But if you have the opportunity to step in, don’t ditch it and at the very least, use the opportunity to monitor the situation, see what is going on and take some lessons from that,” advised Hoffman.
In response to the issue affecting Providence Secondary, she said: “If this child has grown up with this identity and expressing this gender and exploring their gender identity that they understand themselves a bit better, there should not be an issue.”
Hoffman at the same time still accepted the dress code regulations of various schools, which she linked to a country still struggling to accept alternative lifestyles.
“Let’s admit it, Barbados is still trying to wrap its head around trans identity. We already understand the gay community, the lesbian community, they’re still feeling their way around the bisexual community, but the trans community is still one where there are still a lot of teething problems.”
Hoffman, however, argued that restricting children’s ability to express their sexuality would do more harm than good.
“They’re concerned that allowing the child to wear the girl’s school uniform is going to scare away potential students. I think it would be more disturbing to see a trans-identified student being made to dress as a male. It would cause a whole set of unnecessary confusion. Students are going to walk up to this child and say, ‘so wait, you’re a girl, why are you dressed as a boy? You say you’re a girl, you’re using a girl’s name, why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?’
“That can bring its own bout of ostracism and what I like to call ‘sore-thumbs’. So there needs to be a bit more thought and consideration given to the issue. It does not appear they are thinking this all the way through,” she contended.