Dept. of Education makes clear transgender students are protected

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Transgender Law Center praised the U.S. Department of Education for releasing guidelines yesterday that make it clear transgender and gender nonconforming students are protected from discrimination under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools.

“We hear from hundreds of students each year who simply want to be themselves and learn at school,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. ”Sadly, many schools continue to exclude transgender students from being able to fully participate. Now, every school in the nation should know they are required to give all students, including transgender students, a fair chance at success.”

Increasingly, courts and federal agencies are making clear that transgender and gender nonconforming people--people who do not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity--are covered under laws that protect people from discrimination based on sex. In 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled, in a case brought by Transgender Law Center, that transgender people are protected from discrimination in the workplace under Title VII, the parallel federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment. In 2013 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division settled a lawsuit brought by a transgender student against the Arcadia Unified School District for denying him access to the same facilities and activities as other boys. The settlement referenced the EEOC ruling.

Transgender Law Center is currently representing Seamus Johnston, a former honors student at the University of Pittsburgh, in his sex discrimination lawsuit against the university. (See: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/10154) Mr. Johnston is a transgender man. During his three years at the University of Pittsburgh, he consistently lived as male and used men’s restrooms on campus. He has also changed most of his identity documents to reflect his male gender. The University allowed him to enroll in a Weight Lifting for Men class in the spring and fall of 2012. In the fall of 2012, however, the University suddenly informed Mr. Johnston that he was no longer permitted to use the men’s restrooms or locker rooms on campus unless he obtained a new birth certificate reflecting his male gender. When he continued using the men’s facilities, the University engaged in a campaign of persecution against him, having him arrested and criminally prosecuted, and eventually expelling him, causing him to lose his full scholarship.

“This case illustrates how important laws like Title IX are to protect transgender students from discrimination,” said Ilona Turner, Transgender Law Center’s Legal Director. “Today’s guidance from the Department of Education makes it crystal clear that under federal law, schools cannot exclude transgender students from the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school.”

Schools seeking sample policies to ensure all students, including transgender students, are able to fully participate at school should refer to the California School Board Association’s model policy available here: http://www.supportallstudents.org/new_model_policy. The policy was released in February of 2014 to help schools comply with both Title IX and the School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB 1266, a California law that makes sure schools know their legal obligation to make sure transgender students are able be themselves and participate at school.

These recent developments in the law have been a success for students like Zoey, a 12-year-old transgender girl from the Los Angeles area who transferred out of her school after administrators there refused to acknowledge her as a girl or allow her to use the girls’ restroom. Her mom, Ofelia Barba, says that the law makes it easier for her daughter to go to school and be herself. “I love my daughter and want the same things for her that other parents want for their children,” Barba said. “I want what’s best for her, for her to be happy, and for her to be able to do well in school. No one wants to see any kid singled out and excluded from school because of who they are.”

The Department of Education’s new guidance is available here: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/10249