A teacher sets the tone in the classroom by ensuring that misuse of names and pronouns is not tolerated and that harassment and name-calling will be grounds for discipline…I can still feel the sting of my chemistry teacher purposefully calling out “Charles” every morning during role call, to the giggling of my peers. To add insult to injury, she repeatedly misgendered me, deliberately referring to me as “he” and “him” and refusing to reprimand bullies who interrupted class by shouting “I can see your balls!” or “How big are your tits now?”…My teacher’s judgments fostered an environment that became increasingly uncomfortable for me daily… It’s no wonder nearly one-third of LGBTQ students are driven out of school. (Mock, 147-8)
As Janet Mock said in Redefining Realness, the way the school treats transgender students sets the precedent for the way the other students get to treat them. When a school or its faculty dead-names a student, or makes them use a bathroom that doesn’t align with their gender identity, it is a message to the students that they do not need to respect that student’s identity. Bullying, harassment, and assault result from a school’s failure to address discrimination in their policies because a school’s discrimination sets the standards for its students’ behavior. Laws can set the social standards.
With regards to general bullying in schools, the Arne Duncan from the U.S. Department of Education stated in 2015, “As schools become safer, students are better able to thrive academically and socially” (“New Data Show…,” 2015). The report further stated that “Research shows that students who are bullied are more likely to struggle in school and skip class. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be depressed, and are at higher risk of suicide.” They then list what the Department of Education has done to help decrease bullying in schools; and what’s the first one they mention? “Issuing four Dear Colleague Letters on harassment and bullying, gay-straight alliances, and bullying of students with disabilities.”
The Department of Education recognizes that protecting LGBT students helps students achieve more, because they recognize the role law plays in cultural perception. And not only a law, but a specific law that specifically protects trans* students’ identity, bathroom accessibility, and their confidentiality. A generation ago, there was no laws protecting trans* students, and what there was of Title IX you could have used against trans* students’ rights and as such trans* kids suffered. In her memoir, Redefining Realness, Janet Mock documents years of bullying both from students and from faculty. She tells of how the school she was in used the dress code to demonize her body, and of how they damaged her education both by sending her home from school over and over again and by making school a traumatic place. Forcing her to choose between an identity she could not avoid (especially at such a pivotal time in her hormonal transition) and her education, and this struggle is not over, but it is so much better thanks to laws at the state and Federal level.
Federal laws like Title IX, and the interpretation of it in the 2016 “Dear Colleague Letter,” told schools that trans* students have rights. It set a standard for the culture in America, much like these laws set a culture in the schools, which said that America, as an institution and a nation, recognizes the personhood and gender identification of trans* students. And it doesn’t just protect trans* students’ personhood fully transitioned, but throughout transition. The “Dear Colleague Letter” specifically outlines that it seeks to protect students no matter their medical record or official diagnosis for gender dysphoria, which says to me that it doesn’t identify trans* as transitioned; students’ whose identities are validated by their ability to pass and by a happy home life. The Obama Administration went out of its way to protect students’ learning environment and ability to self identify no matter their ability to transition which helps protect poor trans* students who may not be able to get a diagnosis and are less likely to be able to have their gender validated outside of school.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump presented himself as a social liberal seeking to move Republicans left on LGBT rights. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The “Dear Colleague Letter” was rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017. Without federal protection, trans* rights goes down to state laws, and, according to the Human Rights Campaign, only 15 states have explicit laws on the books. In one state you could be a person, and in another you could be the problem, which means that many trans* kids are still fighting the same battle. Supporters of the administration’s withdrawal, say that they seek to protect students from people who might abuse the system for their sexual urges. And it makes sense that it’s this law they attacked. However it doesn’t make sense for the reasons they stated. Title IX’s trans* protections were the most vulnerable because they weren’t a law, but you know what also wasn’t a law that they rescinded around the same time as the 2016 letter? The 2011 and 2014 letters about a school’s duty to respond to sexual assaults. It is clear that the removal of the trans* protections is not about protecting cis-students (specifically young white women and girls), because if that’s what they wanted to do they wouldn’t have removed the sexual harassment protections which gave young women a clear route to report the kinds of things proponents against trans* bathroom access say trans* students will do. The Trump administration, and supporters of the withdrawal do not want to protect students against sexual assault. They want to enforce an easily identifiable binary that can be regulated by medical and governmental institutions. And I understand that instinct; to want to be sure that these students are trans* and ready to make their transition. But when you really think about what that would mean, you realize that it alienates the students who are most vulnerable to harassment: the poor students who don’t have access to the kind of resources to make a seamless transition.
But there was that moment. That moment when the highest offices of the country put their foot down and said that it was not okay to discriminate against trans students. Gavin Grimm told the Washington Post about the Title IX protections: “It certainly bolstered hope that the future for transgender students was looking up in a way that it hadn’t been previously.” Grimm started his lawsuit against his school in 2015, and this year he finally won his case because of Title IX. Even though the official statement has since been withdrawn, Federal appeals court had something to look back on in the case: “In ruling for Grimm and against the school district, the court deferred to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX” (CNN).
de Vogue, Ariane et al. “Trump administration withdraws federal protections for transgender students.” CNN, 23 Feb. 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/22/politics/doj-withdraws-federal-protections-on-transgender-bathrooms-in-schools/index.html. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
Gordon, Demoya. “Lambda Legal Applauds New Federal Guidance on Transgender Students’ Access to Bathrooms.” Lambda Legal, 13 May 2016. https://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/20160513_new-guidelines-trans-bathrooms. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
“HOW THE LAW PROTECTS LGBTQ YOUTH.” Lambda Legal, https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/youth-how-the-law-protects. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
Jackson, Candice. “Dear Colleague Letter on Campus Sexual Misconduct.” U.S. Department of Education, 22 Sept. 2017. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-title-ix-201709.pdf?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
Lhamon, Catherine E., and Vanita Gupta. “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students.” U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, 13 May 2016. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
Mock, Janet. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Atria, New York, 2014.
“New Data Show a Decline in School-based Bullying” U.S. Department of Education, 15 May 2015. https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/new-data-show-decline-school-based-bullying. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
“OVERVIEW OF TITLE IX OF THE EDUCATION AMENDMENTS OF 1972, 20 U.S.C. A§ 1681 ET. SEQ..” The United States Department of Justice, Updated August 7, 2015. https://www.justice.gov/crt/overview-title-ix-education-amendments-1972-20-usc-1681-et-seq. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
“Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct.” U.S. Department of Education, Sept. 2017. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-title-ix-201709.pdf?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.
“Title IX Protections for Transgender Students.” Find Law, https://education.findlaw.com/discrimination-harassment-at-school/title-ix-protections-for-transgender-students.html. Accessed 1 Dec. 2018.