Transgender Students Deserve Safe and Inclusive Schools

  • February 24, 2017
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At the heart of HSC’s work is a commitment to equity. We believe all students, regardless of their race, income, sexual or gender identity, should have equitable access to a safe, supportive, healthy school environment that enables them to thrive. Yesterday, the president withdrew protections for transgender students which place this access in jeopardy.

These protections, which supported transgender students in using school bathrooms that match their gender identities, helped create a school environment supportive of all students. As we wrote a few weeks after the election, we will speak up for our commitment to equity and work to ensure the nation’s most vulnerable students have equitable access to school environments that enable them to thrive.

Today, we are speaking up.

The withdrawal of this guidance has the potential to create a hostile school environment for the more than 150,000 young people ages 13 to 17 who identify as transgender. And research shows a hostile environment leads to missed school and other health issues that, ultimately, negatively affect a student’s ability to learn.

In a 2013 survey of of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) middle and high school students, students who had experienced victimization and discrimination at school were more likely to miss school, had worse educational outcomes and poorer mental health. Students who reported being victimized often because of their gender expression were three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who were victimized less often.

According to that same survey, one-third of LBGT students avoided gender-segregated spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. That survey also found 59.2 percent of transgender students had been required to use a bathroom or locker room that did not match their gender identity.

With the guidance withdrawn, it’s now up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law as it relates to bathroom access. Some states and districts have already shown they do not think this issue falls under anti-discrimination law, and one student is taking them to court. The Supreme Court on March 28 is scheduled to hear a case brought by Virginia high school student Gavin Grimm. Grimm is suing the school board, and the case argues that keeping him out of his bathroom of choice is unconstitutional and violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination by schools. The ruling of the Supreme Court would clarify Title IX for all schools nationally.

We commend Chicago Public Schools and the city of Chicago for coming out and affirming that transgender students in the district are able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This ensures that students in Chicago can focus on their studies—and not on where they go to the bathroom. We hope all of our nation’s students will soon have this same right.