Are the problems transgender youth face considered a civil rights issue?
Our previous and current administrations definitely disagree on whether Title IX applies to transgender students. Title IX is the federal law banning discrimination, based on sex, in educational institutions that get federal funding.
Last week, the Trump administration pulled back guidance issued by the Obama team to public schools on bathroom access for transgender students. The previous Obama guidance gave students full access to all facilities and activities based on their gender identity. Instead, states are now invited to make their own decisions on how to handle the issue.
The federal government will no longer offer an interpretation of whether the federal law protects kids who are transgender.
What’s the Big Deal
This means, at least for now, transgender kids will be accommodated differently from state to state in their public schools.
We know that bathrooms are an infamous space for bullying, both physically and verbally. This is multiplied for transgendered youth. I remember how self-conscious I was “changing out” in the open locker rooms for PE. I can’t imagine going to school scared to death every time I needed to pee.
On the flip-side of the coin are parents who, for safety and moral reasons, worry about their children being forced to use the bathroom or engage in activities with students who may be physically another sex. These parents believe the Obama guidance was a violation of their child’s civil rights.
DeVos Chimes In
In an interesting twist, it appears Betsy DeVos was initially not in support of this Trump administration move. She was reportedly convinced to agree in a private meeting. The new secretary of education has since been vocal about the “moral obligation” to protect all students and has re-amplified the pledge of the Office of Civil Rights to investigate any threats to vulnerable youth.
Broward’s Bold Response
Here in Broward, our Superintendent Robert Runcie has made our position clear. Within 24 hours a statement was released to remind our families of the policies already in place that will not change in light of the new information from the feds.
As a District, we have a moral obligation and responsibility to protect students from discrimination, bullying and harassment. Prior to the federal guidance provided in May 2016, BCPS had guidelines in place to support transgender students. Therefore, the announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education will not have an impact on the operation of our schools.
Is This a Civil Rights Issue?
As federal laws go, educational institutions are obligated to comply. But what if the application of the federal law is unclear? In this case, are transgender youth protected under Title IX non-discrimination clauses?
It obviously rests in our definition of “sex”, and whether we as a society believe this is a civil rights and social justice issue. Many researchers say gender/sex is a spectrum, not as black and white as we like to define it. The same could be said about race. And, do we believe the outcomes of school desegregation would be the same if the interpretation of Title VI was left to local lawmakers?
I guess we will soon find out if history has taught us enough lessons. Hopefully, the local choices will be to indiscriminately protect all children.
In the meantime, there is no replacement information offered to the rescinded guidance. There is, however, hope for a more “extensive legal analysis” as stated in the letter to public schools. In a White House statement, “returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”
This might take a while.