We've seen it time and again. Someone somewhere suggests that a school district actually develop a policy to protect transgender students from bullying and sexual or physical harassment and the first thing you know the conservative media is all over "the bathroom thing."
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington all have statewide nondiscrimination laws designed to protect students on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, as does the District of Columbia. Additionally, Wisconsin and New York protect students on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education today issued official guidance which makes clear that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. Specifically, the guidance states that "Title IX's sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.
--GLSEN, April 29, 2015
Rightwing sources: Government overreach. Title IX was never intended to protect "those kind of people."
Conservative media outlets have attacked transgender-inclusive non-discrimination policies in schools by claiming they create confusion, violate students' privacy rights, and can be exploited by students who will pretend to be transgender in order to sneak into the restrooms for the opposite sex and behave inappropriately.
Media Matters contacted officials at the largest school districts In 12 states with gender identity protections on the books.
Seventeen school districts covering 600,000 students reported that they experienced no problems after implementing transgender protections.
Media Matters contacted school district officials in states with laws prohibiting discrimination in public schools on the basis of gender identity and asked whether they had experienced "any incidences of harassment or inappropriate behavior" as a result of "allowing transgender students to access facilities they're comfortable with." Media Matters specifically raised the oft-heard criticism that protecting transgender students will "result in confusion, harassment, or inappropriate behavior" such as "students pretending to be transgender to sneak into locker rooms or bathrooms."
California (Protections since 2014): None of the six school districts reported incidents of harassment or inappropriate behavior, and several pledged to continue accommodating transgender students even if the law were to be repealed in a referendum.
Colorado (Protections since 2008, restroom access clarified in 2009)
We are not aware of any such incidences in Denver Public Schools.
[Email exchange, 5/20/15]
Our District seeks to foster an educational environment that is safe and free from all discrimination for all students. We are very aware of, and participating in, the discussion regarding transgender students using the bathroom of their choice. Additionally, we are currently updating our annual training materials to discuss this matter. We will continue to be involved in these discussions with both our internal population as well as external subject matter experts and updating our training materials appropriately.
To address your specific question, we are not aware of any a transgender student or any student raising a concern about bathroom use at our schools.
[Email exchange, 5/21/15]
Connecticut (Protections since 2011)
No Inappropriate incidences. Bridgeport is proud to accommodate all students. We are happy to report that we have not experienced any inappropriate incidents resulting from accommodations for trans-gender students.
--Fran Rabinowicz, Superintendent
Illinois (Protections since 2006)
In my eight years in School District U-46, I am not aware of instances of harassment or inappropriate behavior related to transgender students accessing facilities of their choice.
--Tony Sanders, Interim Superintendent
Yes, we have had students for several years who have identified themselves as the opposite gender, and we have taken steps to ensure their comfort in terms of providing access to appropriate facilities. No, we have not had any issues allowing transgender students to access facilities they are comfortable with.
--Tony Hernandez, director of community relations
Iowa (Protections since 2007)
When it comes to transgender students and our school district's practice of making sure we serve students according to their individual gender identity, we have had no reported incidents of any student abusing our policies or taking advantage of them in any way that would be inappropriate or harassing. At this time, we have no examples to support such criticism.
--Phil Roeder, director of communications and public affairs, DMPS
There have not been reports of harassment or bullying due to transgendered [sic] students having access to facilities in the Sioux City Community School District. The District is committed to ensuring every student and staff member is treated with respect and dignity. We work very hard to ensure all of our students learn in a safe atmosphere.
--Alison Benson, director of comunications, SCCSD
Maine (Protections since 2005)
We are fully committed in Lewiston Public Schools to comply with Maine law and to meet the needs of our transgendered [sic] students with respect and dignity. No cases of harassment have reached my office. That doesn't mean that they don't exist, but, I would like to think, my administrators throughout our schools are working well with students and families on this issue. I am aware of a couple of situations where a young student has decided to identify with with [sic] the opposite sex, change their name and patterns of dress. The biggest issue that I am aware is helping parents with this change, particularly where the parents may have different opinion.
--Bill Webster, Superintendent
Massachusetts (Protections since 2012)
While there is state law and a district non-discrimination policy that protects all of our students from and against discrimination and harassment, we are most proud of our work with schools and external partners over the past two years to deepen our capacity to proactively meet the needs of our GLBT students. To that end, we have not received specific complaints regarding bathroom access; however, over the past year our Equity Office has responded to requests from schools to help educate staff on the state law, our policy, and overall inclusion of transgender students. This led to the establishment of a working group in 2015 to review the impact that some of our district procedures have on transgender students, as well as efforts to increase training specifically related to effective engagement and inclusion of our GLBT community.
--Tanisha Sullivan, chief equity officer, Boston Public Schools
Minnesota (Protections since 1993)
Minneapolis Public Schools is committed to providing transgender and gender non-conforming students and staff with the tools, resources, and support they need. Over the past year and half, four schools converted bathrooms to be gender neutral: Wenonah (K-2), Folwell (K-8), Seward (K-8), and South (9-12). The implementation around the gender-neutral restrooms involved teacher and staff training around gender inclusion, along with a mix of student and family engagement such as peer education at South with students speaking to classmates about the need for a different restroom; student assemblies on bullying prevention; articles in the school newspaper; and, in some cases, parent letters went out directly to families. Accommodations for changing rooms and showers for sports and gym classes are made at the site level. School administrators and work with transgender students and their families to ensure appropriate facilities are provided to meet each student's needs.
To date, there have been no reports of harassment or bullying of transgender students or other students due to these changes.
--Lynn Brun, interim communications director, MPS
From my understanding from the research into developing our own district policy protecting transgender students, we haven't noticed any uptick in harassment or bullying complaints due to the Minnesota Human Rights Act. There seems to be no correlation between the Act and incidences of bullying or harassment. I am not aware of any cases of students pretending to be transgender to sneak into bathrooms or locker rooms.
There is no correlation between unsafe school environments and providing equitable access to facilities for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
--Ryan Vernosh, interim director of communications, marketing and development, SPPS
New Jersey (Protections since 2007)
We have not encountered any specific issues (in response to your facilities question), but we do have a policy - and we are sensitive to this matter.
In fact, some of our district staff members have participated in a recent training program - LGBT- Legal Rights & Discrimination of Students and Staff - presented by The Morris Union Juncture.
--Terry Corallo, executive director of information, PSD
Oregon (Protections since 2008)
We have not received or heard of any harassment to kids. We have had some concerns from parents who are not parents of TG [sic] students.
--Christine Miles, public information officer, PPS
I did look into this. We cannot speak about specific individual students dealing with these issues. However, we have not had any of the negative consequences you listed in your email. We feel fortunate in that regard.
--Jay Remy, community relations and communications director, SKSD
Washington (Protections since 2006)
We have not had any incidents related to this in Seattle Public Schools. One great example, some of our transgender students have made headlines recently for changing the graduation gown color to be just one, rather than one for boys and one for girls.
--Stacy Howard, spokesperson and media relations specialist, SPS
I have not heard of any situation where a student pretended to be transgender in order to sneak into bathrooms or locker rooms. Neither are we hearing of situations where a student identifies as transgender than later changes their mind. Any questions that have come up around bathroom use for transgender students have been handled amicably.
--Ramon Alvarez, equal opportunity officer, SPS
Vermont (Protections since 2007)
Before the 2007 protections were enacted in Vermont, Burlington School District was already establishing protections for all students. Since the protections were enacted, the Burlington School District has implemented district-wide bullying and harassment protocols. In each of our schools we have two or more trained Designated Employees (DEs) who are responsible for investigating all complaints of alleged bullying/harassment. Any bullying and/or harassment complaints of a federal or state protected category, such as race, creed, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, (and the district has also included gender expression), will be investigated. The Burlington School District has hired an Equity Director to ensure staff are trained in order to appropriately respond to bullying and harassment. Although BSD has not experienced misbehavior of any student claiming to be transgender as an attempt to gain access to certain facilities, we do offer gender neutral facilities for students and staff.
--Howard Smith, interim superintendent, BSD