Photo Credit: Milena Brown
Authored by Milena Brown
As someone who has been yelled at by both men and women for using the women’s bathroom, using the bathroom can be stressful and sometimes dangerous. I am not the only person who has experienced harassment based on the perception of my gender when using the restroom.
On May 14, 2014 former President Obama signed an executive order that allowed transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom that best aligned with their gender identity. On August 21, 2016 the order was barred from enforcement by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth District in Texas. On February 23, 2017 the Trump Administration reversed Obama’s Executive order. Since the order was previously barred from being enforced by the Obama Administration, the rescinding of it by the Trump Administration serves as a message to the LGBTQ community and the conservative far right. In my opinion it is clear that they are telling the LGBTQ community that they do not support their initiatives, which is in alignment with the far right’s position on LGBTQ rights.
President Obama’s original order issued guidance documents explaining that barring transgender students from using the bathroom that best aligned with their gender identity violated the anti sex-discrimination policy Title IX. The official letter written by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice said, “Please note that the withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment.” According to the Department of Justice, now under Jeff Sessions, they withdrew the guidance letter because it lacked sufficient legal analysis and was not explained clearly enough.
The guidance that was withdrawn by these departments was originally written in order to help states avoid violating the anti-sex discrimination policy Title IX. The Department of Education’s website, under the Transgender and Gender-nonconforming Resources section, states that, “Title IX protects all students, including transgender and gender-nonconforming students, from sex discrimination. Title IX encompasses discrimination based on a student’s nonconformity with sex stereotypes and gender identity, including a student’s transgender status.” Meaning that regardless of whether the guidance letter is pulled or not, transgender students are still offered protections under Title IX. Pulling it does not really change anything, other than the Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s position on the matter.
However, because this guidance letter was previously blocked by the 4th Circuit District Court of Appeals for the same reason, the only function that rescinding it can serve is that of a message to the LGBTQ Community. In my opinion this is the White House, and specifically Jeff Sessions, saying that they will not stand up for the rights of LGBTQ students. I think that it is incredibly disheartening and disappointing for this administration to be targeting the most vulnerable people in a community that is already without many federal protections. Students who came out previously may now be in danger of harassment and bullying from their schools if they are in a state or district that does not support or protect transgender students. This also opens the door for schools to adopt more anti-LGBTQ policies without repercussions from the Federal Government.
On May 29, 2008 former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public spaces including public bathrooms and schools. In 2015 Fossil Ridge High School gained designated bathrooms in the office wings as gender-neutral bathrooms available to students.
In an interview with Fossil’s Assistant Principal Mark Barry, he described a transition plan that PSD has developed for transgender students that includes changing information in Synergy and other school databases to match the student’s gender preference, and identifying key adults in the building that the student feels comfortable talking with about his or her transition. He explained that, “The reason we go through all that is because we don’t want students to be in situations where people make them feel uncomfortable, and that if that happens we want them to have key individual adults in the building that they can talk with. We just want to support the student; that’s what these plans are for.” Barry also said that he has been through this process multiple times and that the experience for students, “has been a very positive thing.”
Most of all, Barry wants transgender students at Fossil to know, “Fossil Ridge supports you wholeheartedly and who you are. So we’re here for you, we’ve got your back. Come talk to me.” The support for Transgender students and the LGBTQ community at Fossil Ridge High School goes beyond a simple message or a statement. There are policies in place that support and protect transgender students. These are also policies that will fortunately be unaffected by the rescinding of the Executive Order that withdraws the guidance documents directing schools on the interpretation of Title IX concerning transgender students. Colorado state laws protect transgender students right to use the bathroom.
The progress for transgender rights is moving forward in some states, like Colorado, and regressing in others. This makes the actions of the Federal Government all the more important because it has the ability to create and enforce laws that support and protect the LGBTQ community across the United States.
The discussion of bathrooms and who gets to use them is far from over, but it is my hope that other schools will adopt LGBTQ friendly policy like Fossil’s that protect and support their transgender students.