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Why the New Guidelines for Public Schools are a Watershed Moment for Transgender Youth

by Hayley Miller May 13, 2016

Last night, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Education made headlines after issuing new guidelines for public school districts across the country, including guaranteeing transgender students the right to use facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with their gender identity.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” John B. King Jr., secretary of the Department of Education, told The New York Times. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

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. This new guidance will be instrumental for school districts to understand their legal obligations, particularly in light of the legal response to North Carolina’s harmful and regressive HB2.

According to the “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students” from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, here are four ways this guidance will ensure transgender students will be treated with dignity in public and federally funded schools:

1. Create a Safe and Non-Discriminatory Environment

“Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including transgender students. Harassment that targets a student based on gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition is harassment based on sex, and the Departments enforce Title IX accordingly.”

2. Guarantee Identification Documents Use Proper Names and Pronouns Consistent with a Student’s Gender Identity

“Under Title IX, a school must treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their education records or identification documents indicate a different sex. The Departments have resolved Title IX investigations with agreements committing that school staff and contractors will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity.”

3. Ensure Students Have Equal Access to Sex-Segregated Facilities that are Consistent with their Gender Identity

“Title IX’s implementing regulations permit a school to provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, and athletic teams, as well as single-sex classes under certain circumstances. When a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”

In addition to restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, athletic teams and single-sex classes, the letter includes single-sex schools, social fraternities and sororities and overnight accommodations.

4. Protect Students’ Privacy and Education Records

“Protecting transgender students’ privacy is critical to ensuring they are treated consistent with their gender identity. The Departments may find a Title IX violation when a school limits students’ educational rights or opportunities by failing to take reasonable steps to protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status, including their birth name or sex assigned at birth. Nonconsensual disclosure of personally identifiable information (PII), such as a student’s birth name or sex assigned at birth, could be harmful to or invade the privacy of transgender students and may also violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

HRC Foundation’s guide, Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools, made in partnership with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Spectrum, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association, is a first-of-its-kind resource providing a blueprint for safe, supportive and inclusive school environments for transgender youth.  

Hayley Miller
Hayley Miller


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