In 2016, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued federal guidelines for supporting transgender students in a landmark move. The Obama administration policy, in addition to ensuring other rights, allowed students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The order was put on pause due to a nationwide injunction that barred its enforcement, but it was widely viewed among the LGBTQ community and its allies as a civil rights victory. That work was seemingly undone with a stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen when, under the advisement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he rescinded the protective measures for trans students.
For those of us caring adults who know how important school safety is to transgender students (according to the 2015 GLSEN School Climate Survey, 75% of trans students felt unsafe at school), the revocation of the new rules seems reckless and needlessly cruel. However, it’s important to remember what this withdrawal does and does not mean. Trump’s actions do remove federal protections for transgender youth. However, the following are still true:
· The DOE/DOJ guidelines are still best practice for supporting transgender students.
· Transgender students may still have protections under state laws.
· Transgender students’ rights are still covered by Title IX, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex.
· Affected students and parents can file suit for discrimination, and schools face legal liability.
· No school is prevented from proactively addressing the needs of trans students, adopting inclusive policies, and creating safe school climates.
Therefore, administrators, teachers, and support staff (regardless of the change) should continue to support transgender students in the following ways:
· Employing bullying and harassment policies that specifically enumerate gender identity.
· Creating gender neutral dress codes and enforcing them equally.
· Using the names and pronouns consistent with a student’s gender identity.
· Providing access to bathrooms and other facilities consistent with a student’s gender identity.
· Allowing students to participate in sports that are consistent with their gender identity.
· Protecting the privacy of trans students.
Perhaps most important, we must be advocates for our transgender students. As was made clear on February 22nd, they need us now more than ever.