By: Amanda Froelich,
Equality win for transgender students: This week in a landmark move for LGBT rights, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a 53-page guidance report that aims to protect trans students by prohibiting discrimination against them. Known as Title IX – the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities – the guidance now also bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
The OCR wrote, “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. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”
When the title passed in 1972, every educational center that received funding in the United States was required to to exercise gender equality for boys and girls. If the various programs and schools failed to do so, they risked the loss of funding for numerous programs that kept the schools running in the country.
But now, all 16,000 public school districts, 3,200 colleges and universities, and 5,000 for-profit schools – including libraries and museums – that receive Title IX federal funds must also include transgender and gender-nonconforming students. According to longtime gender activist and writer, Stephanie Gilmore, it’s about time.
“This policy extends our legal protection of sex and gender to all people, not just men and women who identify with the sex and gender assigned at birth,” she says. “We now have legal protection for people of all sexes and genders, and a legal awareness that the cultural norm of ‘male’ and ‘female’ do not apply to everyone.”
For those transgender students who too often face hostility at school or refusal by school officials to accept them as they are, this announcement is a momentous breakthrough.
While it may seem shocking, transgender students are often excluded from school activities such as field trips, and are bullied relentlessly in schools across the United States. A recent study by the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network discovered that 80 percent of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their sexuality.
“They often are not allowed to attend school functions, such as prom, or participate fully in their own education,” stated Gilmore. “Transgender students often don’t have role models in the classroom or in the curriculum. The expansion of Title IX to transgender people means that students will have legal recourse.”
This ruling made it clear that schools must provide equal access to all facilities and programs consistent with a student’s gender identity, and must ensure that all students are respected and feel safe on campus. If a school fails to do this, then a student now has the right to take it to court and file a civil rights complaint.
A large guidance document wrapped the transgender guidance earlier on regarding the responsibilities of schools to prevent and respond to sexual violence against any students. This was announced by the Obama administration, which has long been against student violence.
It is outlined explicitly in the guidance that if a school ignores a student’s complaint about sexual assault or harassment by another student and the complaintant’s grades suffer, the school may need to allow him or her to retake classes without academic or financial penalty.
Similarly, a website called NotAlone.gov was also launched around the same time. This site collects resources for students and schools and reports settlements with schools related to sexual violence on campus – including aggression against transgender students.
Gilmore stated, “Title IX is getting a lot of attention in the press because college students are using it to open federal investigations and sue colleges for mishandling or under-reporting sexual violence and rapes on college campuses.” She continued, “Given that transgender students are often targets of physical and sexual violence, they will now have a legal option to pursue legal remedy. This will not stop sexual violence from happening, but it will give protection to transgender students.”
The source article for this composition was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.