There’s been a lot of debate in the LGBTQ community about the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with a transgender individual’s identifying gender, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. Now, the Obama administration is doing something amazing: issuing a directive requiring every public school district to allow transgender students to freely use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.
New York Times reports that the school districts will receive a letter on Friday with the declaration signed by Justice and Education department that will outline how schools can prevent discrimination within the student body. According to the Times, to whom a copy of the letter was given, the declaration “does not have the force of law” but “contains an implicit threat” — that any schools that refuse to comply could lose federal aid or face lawsuits.
The directive comes less than two months after the passing of HB2, a law signed by North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory that targets transgender individuals. “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” the letter reads. “. . . As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”
When a student’s parent or legal guardian designates a different gender for their child than their biological gender, the school must respect their preferred gender identity — sans medical diagnosis or birth certificate, and “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections.”
“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” John B. King Jr., the secretary of the Department of Education, said in a statement to the Times. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”
Schools may provide other restroom and locker options for any students who need “additional privacy,” but they can’t require transgender students to use single-use facilities if they’re not requiring other students to do the same. The administration will also send schools a 25-page list of “emerging practices” for educational purposes, from preferred pronouns to maintaining a transgender student’s privacy.
“This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement to ABC News.
It’s important to note that the requirement for a parent or legal guardian’s signing off could lead to issues for transgender students whose families are not accepting of their preferred gender identity. However, it’s undeniable that this is a watershed moment in LGBTQ rights, and we applaud the Obama administration for taking a stand on such an incredibly important issue.