In the wake of HB2, North Carolina's anti-trans bathroom law, the Department of Education has come out in support of transgender students, issuing a statement that urges public school administrators and officials to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and facilities that correspond their gender identity. The Dear Colleague Letter, paired with a 19-page document that outlines Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students, is a historic step in the right direction for LGBTQ students, advisors, and their allies.
When compared to heterosexual cisgender youth, queer youth are more at risk for suicide, depression, and violence. According to the 2013 GLSEN School Climate Survey, "74.1% of LGBT students reported incidents of verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) because of their sexual orientation and 55.2% because of their gender expression". Queer youth of color are especially at risk of dropping out of high school or falling into the school to prison pipeline, which refers to a series of practices and zero tolerance approaches that consequently push students out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. According to research conducted by the GSA Network, "queer youth of color only make up 6% of the population, but account for a whopping 15% of the juvenile justice system". For far too long, our country's broken education system has systemically oppressed the very students who are most at risk.
While these statistics are staggering -- even heartwrenching -- educators and students now have a national document by which we can begin to hold administrators and officials accountable. What is explicitly stated is that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX. Specifically, the guidance states that "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," and threatens to withdraw federal funds from school systems that do not uphold this interpretation of policy. While this exciting, and offers our students a beacon of hope, there is still much more work to be done.
What is implicitly stated is that schools should access this document and create policies to protect their youth; however, these practices and policies are not federally mandated. Nevertheless, hope comes from knowing that these documents -- in the hands of the right groups of empowered individuals -- will serve as a framework by which local school activists can begin shifting the paradigm of discrimination, prejudice, and injustice that LGBTQ youth all too often experience. While the current policy provides implications for transgender youth, I believe that we need to continue our focus on LGBT youth and youth of color, and continue to push for national mandates that will require rogue states to comply with and create policies that will protect all youth: Only then will we begin to alter the trajectories for our youth on a national scale.
While these are exciting times for LGBTQ youth and their allies, it is clear that our youth need us now more than ever. If you're an educator looking to provide strategies and support systems in the classroom, you can start by visiting the Teach for America LGBTQ Initiative website, GLSEN website and GSA Network website. Implementing LGBTQ voices in your curriculum, revising your classroom rules to include language of acceptance, and printing supportive fliers and posters are all great steps to ensuring all youth feel safe in the classroom. If you witness discrimination of transgender youth at your school or community, report it by writing the Office of Civil Rights or call 800-421-3481. You can also email the Office of Civil Rights at OCR@ed.gov.
Together, we can continue our work to ensure that one day, all students will have equal protections under the law, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender identity, or sexual orientation.