Helping Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students

By the time Landon – a high school student in Massachusetts – entered his freshman year, he had already been in and out of the hospital for multiple suicide attempts. He had been pulled out of school because he wasn’t able to get through the day, and he needed medication to sleep.

Today, Landon is back in school – a vocational school he transferred to as a sophomore, after coming out to friends and family as a transgender boy – and things have gotten a little easier for him. Landon’s new school is committed to treating every student with dignity and respect, and together they have found ways to allow Landon to survive and thrive in his new surroundings. But getting there has taken time, and the path hasn’t always been clear.

In recent months, we’ve heard from a growing chorus of educators, parents, and students around the country about the need for guidance on how schools can successfully support transgender students and non-transgender students in compliance with federal civil rights laws. In fact, just this week, the National Association of Secondary School Principals called for the Department to release guidance and best practices on creating an inclusive and respectful environment. Schools want to do right by all of their students and have looked to us to provide guidance on steps they can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination, and has an opportunity to thrive.

Today, in response to those requests, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to schools explaining how federal law prohibiting sex discrimination affects schools’ obligations toward transgender students. The Department of Education also released a compilation of examples of ways that schools across the country are already successfully supporting transgender students.

The resources we released today give schools like Landon’s the guidance they’ve been asking for to navigate issues they may be confronting for the first time. The Departments’ guidance identifies the key requirements that schools need to keep in mind to comply with Title IX and other federal laws. The companion document offers real-life examples of how schools are making sure transgender and all students have a safe and respectful learning environment. Both documents show that protecting transgender students’ right to be who they are does not harm other students; instead, they show that equality for transgender students is not only required by law but achievable through common-sense approaches that foster safety and a positive learning environment for all students.

The documents address common questions – like how to handle educational records of transgender students and how to address harassment of transgender students. They also highlight sensible ways that schools around the country have been able to address concerns from other students and parents without infringing upon transgender students’ civil rights. The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, for example, there are other appropriate options available; and schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.  And it reiterates that Title IX does not prohibit medically- and scientifically-sound requirements to ensure physical safety and competitive fairness in school sports.

Taken together, we hope these new resources assist everyone – from state and local leaders to educators to students and families – about how to create a safe, welcoming, and supportive learning environment for every student.

Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

26 Comments

  1. Working as an administrator in a public comprehensive high school in CA, these laws were originally thought to be tough to implement but have actually been quite seamless. High school is a time where students experiment, find a voice, and come into their own as the people they want the world to see. We have been working with students testing the transgender and homosexuality waters for as far back as I can remember. With no major concerns, especially as of late. It is the people outside of education who immediately think about locker rooms and bathrooms and how we are able to support students going into the “wrong” room. The answer is that while they are legally able to go into the room that most fits who they are, most of our transgender students do not choose to dress in the same locker room of their portrayed gender because it still causes too much disruption. However, bathrooms are fair game and there are no such reservations. I appreciate these students for having the nerve to portray themselves as they feel they should. Part of this could be my liberal views as a “Californian” but I really think it is more about supporting students as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

  2. Thank you for taking a position on basic human rights for our children and setting and example that all Americans should be proud to follow!

  3. Prior Supreme Court cases have recognized the right to privacy by excluding members of the opposite sex while in various stages of undress. See Doe v. Luzerne Cnty., Brannum v. Overton Cnty. Sch. Bd., Beard v. Whitmore Lake Sch. Dist., Sepulveda v. Ramirez, Lee v. Downs.

    Title IX recognizes “sex” as a protected class, not “gender identity.” Who gave the Executive Branch the power to change laws? Did a coup occur?

    • I agree. States have included gender identity as a separate category and sex discrimination is not the same thing. This is legislation from the executive branch rather than from the Congress where it belongs and is contrary to the constitution.

      Furthermore, OCR has said that asking transgender children to use a separate gender neutral bathroom is discriminatory, however, their solution for other student’s who have protected freedom of religion rights under the constitution and may feel uncomfortable or disagree are told that their accommodation is to use a separate bathroom. How is this an accommodation for one group and not for another. Plus, bathrooms and locker rooms are not a program or an activity. We do need to make all children feel comfortable in their school. I think the solution is to redesign bathrooms with separate stalls that go from ceiling to the floor and doors. Have windows that look into the sink area and stop the discussion. Make everyone feel comfortable and give enough privacy to all.

  4. Thank you for issuing these important guidelines and for standing up for the rights of all human beings! I feel lucky to live in a state where acceptance of all students has been the norm for many years–one in which instances of bathroom rape or other predatory bathroom behavior by trans people or people pretending to be trans have been just as nonexistent as they were before these protections were put in place. For those commenting here, if you’d like to have a conversation about keeping children safe, let’s start with real rape statistics (RAINN.org has a good website for this info) or the fact that the United States has the highest child homicide rate among Western democracies (UNICEF).

  5. If people could please just stop and try to imagine for a moment what it would be like if your child had gender dysphoria. Just truly think about it.

  6. We are so heartened to learn about these new regulations. We, like some other commenters, had much to learn about what it means to be transgender and the brutality that they face on a regular basis, but through our learning we have come to understand that we have nothing to fear for our children – whereas transgender kids are often at the receiving end of the hate, vitriol and violence we have feared.

  7. Thank you for issuing such clear and thoughtful guidance. This will really help schools stay on top of best educational practice, as supported by dozens of published research studies. It is good to know that our nation need not fall behind the progress in other countries, that we need not be held back by ignorance and fear.

  8. As the parent of a transgender child who deals with issues of discrimination, belonging and access of a daily basis — and who, at this point, doesn’t use a bathroom at all between 7:30 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. — thank you for this public declaration of support. Beyond the accessibility changes we hope this makes at the local school level, the spirit of the guidelines, that trans kids deserve equal treatment under the law, makes a huge difference to my family.

  9. Your meddlesome announcement in tandem with the DOJ on May 13 threatening schools over this so-called gender identity restroom/locker room policy is not only against federal law, it does NOTHING BUT THE OPPOSITE of “defending childhood: protect, heal, thrive” as the DOJ website says. Kids already have too much to deal with in school: anxiety about excessive government testing requirements, struggling with peer pressure to smoke, drink or use drugs, and being continually confronted with sexual messages from our society. Forcing all students to give up their reasonable expectation of and right to privacy in restrooms/locker rooms because a very small minority of children may feel like a boy one day and a girl the next (no thanks to their parents) is unconscionable. Can you imagine how insecure the majority of students would feel if they also have to deal with this?

    This is also a personal safety issue, especially in high schools. Let’s not add the risk of “bathroom rape” to the list of dangers students must attempt to avoid. Did you ever have to think about who might be waiting inside facilities that you needed to use and what their intent might be? No. Our children should have that same luxury.

    Continue with this agenda and parents who are able will be pulling their kids out of public schools and enrolling them in private school or home schooling. Quality administrators, teachers, and staff will go elsewhere for employment. In what condition will that leave the schools for the underprivileged kids who will be left? How well will those children “thrive?”

    The DOE’s method of “helping” schools and “ensuring” transgender civil rights is nothing but a strong arm tactic that is a violation of the civil rights of the vast majority of students. It is likely the most outrageous thing the Obama administration has done and there have been some doozies! Along with most Americans I will oppose your illegal interference and fight to “defend childhood!” STAY OUT OF OUR RESTROOMS!!!

    • “Forcing all students to give up their reasonable expectation of and right to privacy in restrooms/locker rooms because a very small minority of children may feel like a boy one day and a girl the next (no thanks to their parents) is unconscionable.”

      If you’ll read the guidance, it does neither of those things.

  10. A terrible decision

    We must protect our children against this terrible ideology against natural law and against God

    We have forgotten who we are and no longer stand on the Rock of Gods law but place our selves on the sand of relativism

    • Not gods law, humans who took it upon themselves to write their interpretation of Gods will. Your kind do more harm than any transgender group. I am a straight, married, college educated, religious, working, white woman, in case you want to compartmentalize who thinks your an idiot.

  11. According to the department of education website, Title IX below does not in anyway accommodate people/children who have transitioned or are transitioning to another sex. I also read accommodations for children/people who are uncomfortable being in the bathroom with people/children of the opposite sex who may or may not identify with another sex. You would take the child into a more private area so they would not feel uncomfortable, thereby making them feel even more uncomfortable subsequently being discriminated against. Why are we discussing this with five and six year old children, which we will have to so they understand what is happening. Stop trying to degrade our children and take their privacy rights to enhance some perceived rights of a very few that don’t identify with their true biological sex.

    No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

    Scope of Title IX

    Title IX applies to institutions that receive federal financial assistance from ED, including state and local educational agencies. These agencies include approximately 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums. Also included are vocational rehabilitation agencies and education agencies of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories and possessions of the United States.

    Educational programs and activities that receive ED funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. Some key issue areas in which recipients have Title IX obligations are: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment. Also, a recipient may not retaliate against any person for opposing an unlawful educational practice or policy, or made charges, testified or participated in any complaint action under Title IX. For a recipient to retaliate in any way is considered a violation of Title IX. The ED Title IX regulations (Volume 34, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 106) provide additional information about the forms of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.

  12. Today you have insulted your country by issuing your letter “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students”. You have expanded “Title IX” that prohibits discrimination based on sex to include so called Transgender individuals by inventing your own definition of sex with your term “gender identity”. As you define it, “Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender.” Gender identity is not a human choice or a civil right. The gender of an individual was determined long before birth and will continue long after death. Regardless of how a person feels or what they do to their body, they cannot alter their gender. Men and Women were created from the beginning, male and female. You simply don’t have a say in it. So please stop your unauthorized and illegal assault on the vast majority of people in this country who know and value who they really are.

  13. I will not stand by and allow boys to use the restroom with my daughter’s. Especially boys who are not capable of knowing whether they are boys or not. I am absolutely against these absurd decisions.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for issuing this guidance concerning transgender bathrooms in schools. Violence against transgender people is at truly tragic levels, and this guidance is an important step in protecting transgender kids. Doing the right thing is not always the easy thing, so thank you for taking a stand and protecting the civil rights of ALL people.

  15. Please show me where, in the United States Constitution it gives the federal government the right to dictate bathroom policy. And no, the civil rights act says nothing about transgender. Did you learn nothing from 1861? Are you again willing to launch this country into another conflict over state’s rights, perhaps a bloody conflict? The blood will be on your hands. I don’t believe for a minute that you care about transgender rights. You are only using them as a test to see what you can get away with.

  16. Mr. King, I am pretty sure you won’t see this email, but I need to try anyway. I also know my comments or my feelings like so many others like mine are not wanted nor appreciated. I don’t wish to see transgender teens or adults discriminated against, but do you not feel you and other politicians are guilty of discrimination against the people in our country who don’t want sharing bathrooms and shower and locker rooms. Why can’t a bathroom facilities be made available for anyone who would want to have privacy in these facilities, but it isn’t about what we want or how we feel, is it, we are considered unimportant in the long run. And to tell the people of NC if they don’t comply with the governments orders, you will hold back educational financial backing don’t you think that is discriminating and just a touch of blackmail. And the strange thing is I am not a republican, well I guess now I am not much of any political backing, just sort of upset and disappointed with my government.

  17. Discrimination would be to treat the same person under the same circumstances in the same situation differently due to their race, ethnicity, sex, etc. The Department has now made gender identity equal to biological gender. This is simply an unenforceable situation. How does a school “determine” or “police” gender identity at any given moment? Are schools really in the position, have the staff resources, the time, or the expertise to make these decisions? This position is simply fraught with problems of enforcement. A male student can claim female identity on a given day to enter female locker room facilities and be protected under Title IX? Do you think a school wants to deny this student’s claim on that day and subject themselves to civil rights violations as threatened by the Department? This is simply absurd and unenforceable. I believe this will result in a long legal battles in the states and courts, and a massive exodus of public school students to private, charter, and homeschool education opportunities.

  18. Well written. I do have significant concerns with applying a new understanding to a multiple decades old law that was obviously never intended to address this issue over the objections and perhaps valid concerns of millions of Americans. Especially when doing so nationwide and including an implicit threat to withhold funding.

  19. And you think you should be entrusted with educating children? I don’t know how to get people at the DOE fired, but I am sure going to find out.

  20. The statement on allowing transgender children to be allowed in locker rooms is a strike against all other children who will now have their rights disregarded. I know my child has now said she will not change clothes in a locker room or use the restroom at school as she is afraid of seeing and being seen by the opposite sex in a private setting. This ruling has gone TOO FAR in granting a broad ruling for the few that will impact the majority in a negative way. The ruling should have been that accomidations should be made for these children to use a gender neutral restroom to change for gym and to use for any bathroom needs. This would have allowed privacy for all. Now with this ruling other children will be harmed. Get your head out of your arse and resolve this difference in a way that is equal to ALL children not the few.

  21. In school students under 18 are not able to vote, WHY?. They are not considered old enough to make important decisions. So being, they should not be considered able to know their true sexual identification. Those under 18 should have separate bathrooms. I am female. I was raised with 4 brothers. I played with them and their friends when I was young. This made me to be a tom-boy, I liked to play football, not dolls, I got along with boys not girls. This can show how I might have been confused with my ID, but I was a child then. As an adult I am still a woman not a man. I do not want a man in the bathroom with me.

  22. I would like to know how many of the Obama Administration’s children go to public schools. I doubt Obama would be keen on his daughters being forced to use the same bathroom and locker rooms with males. This is a total disgrace. What power do us, as parents, have to prevent possible sexual misconduct against our children?? Where will our country be in a few years? Open bath houses??

  23. This is not protecting a class of people. This is endangering our vulnerable children and exposing them to some who will take advantage of this initiative for ill intent. So incredibly disappointed in our government over-reacting on behalf of small but well-funded groups to pose a threat to the vast majority of families who covet safety and values in this country. This administration has expedited a warped sense of rightness that is taking our nation right into the foray of relativism.

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