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Obama Administration Issues Guidelines to Ensure Trans Students Receive Appropriate Treatment

by Liz Halloran May 12, 2016

Today, HRC praised the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Education for issuing new guidance for school districts to ensure transgender students will be treated with dignity in public and federally funded schools, including having equal access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with their gender identity.

“These groundbreaking guidelines not only underscore the Obama administration’s position that discriminating against transgender students is flat-out against the law, but they provide public school districts with needed and specific guidance guaranteeing that transgender students should be using facilities consistent with their gender identity,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools.”

North Carolina’s recently-passed anti-LGBT law, known as HB2, in part prohibits public school students from using restrooms and other school facilities consistent with their gender identity, and it points to the increasing urgency for the administration’s guidance on access to public facilities. The law also overturns municipal protections for LGBT people at the local level, bars transgender people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity in all publicly-owned property, and guts the ability of people who have been discriminated against - including on the basis of race, religion, and sex - to sue in state court.

“Transgender youth are already at heightened risk of experiencing violence, bullying, and harassment, and North Carolina’s action exacerbates those risks by creating a hostile environment in one of the places they should feel the safest,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “There is an immediate and overwhelming need to recognize the rights transgender students have  under federal law.”

Under the Obama administration, the Departments of Education and Justice have already enforced Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotyping as unlawful sex discrimination. Today’s guidance will be instrumental for school districts to understand their legal obligations in light of the legal response to North Carolina’s harmful and regressive HB2.

A survey by the HRC Foundation found that three-quarters of transgender students feel unsafe in school settings. A report by the Williams Institute found that half of transgender adults who were bullied in school had attempted suicide. These startling numbers can only be expected to rise if the North Carolina law, and other similar bills proposed in other states, continue to target these young people.

North Carolina’s needless and mean-spirited law puts school districts directly at odds with with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, which has unequivocally stated that, “Discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his [or her] gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.”  

HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program also works extensively with teachers and administrators to support transgender and gender-expansive students, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and embrace family diversity. In 2015, the HRC Foundation, with the ACLU, Gender Spectrum, NCLR and the NEA, released Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12, which serves as the premiere best practices guide for schools nationwide.

Liz Halloran
Liz Halloran


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