A week after the Trump administration withdrew guidelines telling schools across the nation to provide specific protections for transgender kids, New York City is making progress in promoting their rights.
On Wednesday, the New York City Department of Education released guidance saying educators must take further steps to respect transgender and gender nonconforming students, such as by using their preferred pronouns. These include non-binary, gender-neutral pronouns that go beyond “he” and “she.”
In 2014, the city affirmed that transgender students have a right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identities. These new guidelines expand on that idea and provide resources for educators to support students who may be transitioning. Schools must now use a student’s preferred name and gender on nonpermanent records. For permanent records, they’re required to use the student’s legal name and gender, but documents must be updated if a student’s legal name or gender changes.
Further, the guidelines affirm that students should be able to play on intramural sports teams and use locker rooms that match their gender identities. Participation in "competitive athletic activities and contact sports will be resolved on a case-by-case basis," however.
I’m thankful for us to have a document that has the Department of Education logo on it, that says to young people, 'Your identity matters, and who you are matters.' Jared Fox, LGBT liaison for the NYC Department of Education
The city decided to expand its guidelines after hearing from students, families and staff who wanted stronger direction, said Jared Fox, the NYC Department of Education’s LGBT liaison. The new guidelines address not only transgender children, but all gender nonconforming students.
In many ways, this guidance is just a first draft. Fox says the department plans to continually update it based on the needs of students and teachers.
New York City’s move comes at a particularly fraught time for LGBTQ students nationwide. The Obama administration told schools in May 2016 to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identities, but the Trump administration rescinded that guidance last week, calling it an example of federal overreach and arguing that such decisions should be made at the state and local level.
Fox said he is proud that New York City, home to the largest school district in the country, is dedicated to providing a safe learning environment for all students.
“I’m thankful for us to have a document that has the Department of Education logo on it, that says to young people, ‘Your identity matters, and who you are matters.’ That sends a really strong message,” Fox said.
This issue will soon play out in a case set to go before the Supreme Court involving transgender teen Gavin Grimm. Grimm is currently in a legal battle with his Virginia school over its decision to bar him from using the men’s restroom. The case could decide which protections transgender people are entitled under the law.
That case and the NYC Department of Education’s guidance are about more than just bathrooms and locker rooms, though. They’re about providing all students ― regardless of gender or sexual orientation ― with equal opportunities and safe environments, Fox said.
“Students have to feel comfortable before they can learn,” he explained. “If I’m worried about which line I’m going to be in or what I’m going to wear, that’s going to impact whether or not I’m comfortable in the classroom. That’s going to impact whether or not I can learn and achieve.”