The New York City Department of Education, which runs the largest school district in the country, has issued new guidelines on respecting and affirming transgender students and their needs in schools.
Under the new guidelines, educators are “encouraged to” use a student’s correct name and pronouns. Trans students should not be forced to use bathrooms and athletic facilities that do not match their gender identity, and there are clearer procedures in place for addressing harassment against trans students.
However, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund points out that the guidelines fall short in several places. For example, they don’t offer a clear position on trans students participating in contact and competitive sports, and they don’t explicitly give trans students the right to use bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. So if my interpretation is correct, for example, a trans girl may not be forced to use the boys’ bathroom, but she could be asked to use a single-stall bathroom rather than allowed to use the girls’ room.
“We are pleased to see the Department of Education issue guidelines that support transgender students in the New York City school system and applaud its commitment to take incidents of anti-transgender harassment seriously,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “This is a big step in the right direction, but transgender kids face unique challenges in school that require more. Officials need to ensure that transgender students have the same opportunities as all students that allow them to thrive. That means treating them as the boys and girls that they are, including letting them use bathrooms that match their true identities. Anything less stigmatizes them as the only boys and girls who are forced to use separate facilities.”
“In addition,” said Silverman “schools must allow transgender kids to play competitive sports just like all other students. The values of teamwork and fair play that school sports teach are important for everyone in school, including transgender students. Ensuring that transgender students can take part in their school environments as their authentic selves keeps them safe, builds their confidence, and helps them to succeed in school. School districts around the country are recognizing the importance of supporting transgender students. We’re happy to see New York City following suit, and would like to see its school system become an even better ally to transgender students.”
The existence of a policy like this is a good start, especially in such a prominent school district, but these guidelines clearly do not extend far enough to adequately protect trans students. Educators should not be “encouraged to” use correct names; this must be the standard. The right of a student to use the correct bathroom shouldn’t be up to the whim of a school administrator; it must be treated as a right.