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Mississippi Refuses to Comply With Obama Administration’s Guidance on Protecting Trans Students

by Ianthe Metzger May 18, 2016

Today, HRC Mississippi, blasted Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and state Republican lawmakers for bullying the state Department of Education into rejecting new federal guidance meant to ensure that transgender students are treated with dignity and respect in their public or federally-funded schools, including ensuring they have access to restroom facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Mississippi School Superintendent Carey Wright initially underscored the importance of a “a safe and caring school environment” learning environment in a release saying the state would comply with the Department of Education's guidance. Following threats from Republican lawmakers calling for her resignation, she has now reversed course.

“Mississippi lawmakers are playing politics with the lives of transgender students, yet recklessly claim that they’re the ones being bullied,” said HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill. “Transgender young people have every right to the same opportunities as their peers and are already targets of violence, bullying and harassment. Mississippi’s action exacerbates risks to transgender students by creating a hostile environment in one of the places young people should feel safest. Make no mistake, these lawmakers are the bullies and their dangerous interference with guidance sought by their own teachers  is also endangering billions of dollars in federal funding for our schools.”

Last week, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance for school districts to ensure transgender students are treated with dignity in public and federally-funded schools, including having equal access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. While this guidance is consistent with previous guidelines and enforcement by the Departments, the treatment of transgender students has become national issue following the recent passage of the discriminatory HB2 law in North Carolina. Among its shameful provisions, HB2 prohibits public school students from using restrooms and other school facilities consistent with their gender identity.

For several years, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have been interpreting and enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotyping as unlawful sex discrimination. Additionally the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently upheld the Department of Education’s assertion that the nation’s civil rights laws protect transgender students from discrimination, including in the provision of bathrooms.

Last month, Mississippi gained national attention for its passage of HB1523, a horrific law that allows almost any individual or organization to use religion as a justification to discriminate against LGBT people in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at school, and in their communities.

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.

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.

Ianthe Metzger
Ianthe Metzger


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