May 23, 2017

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Educators Respond to the Federal Repeal of Transgender Bathroom Protection

transbathroomdoors_altOn February 22, the federal education and justice departments under the Trump administration posted a “Dear Colleague” letter, informing public schools that Obama-era rulings on the use of restroom facilities that aligned with transgender students’ gender identity would no longer be upheld. According to CNN.com, “the departments withdrew the guidance ‘in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved.’”

ALA President Julie Todaro released a statement “strongly protesting” the rollback, saying the “administration’s decision to revoke important protections for transgender students couldn’t conflict more with the library community’s fundamental values and the principles upon which libraries are founded. Transgender students deserve the right to use restroom facilities that are aligned with their gender identity…We believe this federal policy must be reinstated because it ensures that all students are treated fairly nationwide.”

Cory Eckert, a Montessori school librarian and one of the joint chiefs of Storytime Underground, shared the site’s official statement on the change in policy, noting that as youth services professionals “We must not stand silent as those in power attempt to dismantle protections for transgender students” and echoing the need for librarians to reflect on the profession’s core values.

As Eckert told School Library Journal:

“Storytime Underground has always held that youth services librarianship is social justice work and that libraries exist to serve the most structurally oppressed in our society first. We are now living in a time when, like with the passage of the Patriot Act, the professional ethics of librarians may be at odds with the policies of the city, county, or state governments they operate under. Librarians will have to be increasingly well-informed about what is legal, and may have to sometimes make choices between acting ethically and acting within the bounds of policy, or even law.”

The executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Dr. Eliza Byard, issued a statement on behalf of the organization: “Supports for transgender students in K–12 schools change and save lives, and hurt no one. President Trump’s reversal of federal guidance affirming Title IX protections in schools undermines the settled expectations and protections afforded by federal law, hurts transgender students, and impedes the progress we have made creating safer and more inclusive learning environments for all.”

Government and school districts across the country have spoken out against the revocation. A Washington Post opinion column, written by former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Catherine Lhamon, previous assistant education secretary for civil rights, calls the policy rollback “thoughtless, cruel, and sad,” stating that “students required to attend school every day need to know that they are safe, welcome, and respected as learners.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh sent a series of tweets saying, “The White House’s reckless actions last night undermine the promise of civil rights and equal protection for all in this country,” “Revoking the clarified protections for transgender students sends a message that they are not worthy of this promise,” and “The @CityOfBoston will continue to step up & protect our students from discrimination & always be an inclusive city.”

According to NBC affiliate station KJRH, Tulsa schools superintendent Deborah Gist posted a statement on the district’s Facebook page to show support for transgender students: “We honor the dignity and equality of our transgender and gender nonconforming students…They also have the right to use restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that are consistent with their gender identity…We recognize the privacy of students in transition and would not disclose information about gender identity or expression without their consent.”

Some states have already passed their own laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Colorado has had anti-discrimination protection on the books since 2008, calling on the state to defend a six-year-old transgender girl denied access to the girls’ restroom in her elementary school, according to Chalkbeat.org.

Mary Clark, library media techician at San Elijo Middle School in San Marcos, CA, tweeted “@libraryvoice Lucky to live in a state which allows Ss to use locker rms/bathrms according to their gender identity! Thanks, @JerryBrownGov.” A 2013 state bill ensures access to bathrooms and locker rooms that match a student’s gender identity, and, in 2016, Governor Brown created additional legislation ruling all single-stall restrooms to be gender neutral.

Katie Mitchell, teen librarian at the Saline District Library (MI), shared her personal perspective on the news. “As a professional who works with teens, I feel that undoing federal protections for transgender students regarding bathroom usage is a distracting device that further separates one of our most vulnerable groups of citizens. It’s not really about where a child goes to the bathroom. Repealing laws that have provided students with discretion and privacy are opening those same children up to bullying, attacks, and unwanted stigma. Let people use the restroom with which they identify, and ask your librarian if you need help researching how trans* bathroom use doesn’t contribute to crime.”

Storytime Underground has begun to collect ideas for actions that librarians can take, including the display of book titles with transgender characters year-round, and not just during pride month; hanging safe space signs “visibly and prominently;” advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms; and considering training for staff on transgender-related topics, such as pronoun use.

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Comments

  1. Mary Smith says:

    What about the rights of heterosexual people? For example: There are probably many millions more heterosexual women who would feel their rights are being violated by being forced to share a bathroom with transgender men than there are transgender men who are now forced to use the bathroom designed for men. Just saying…do the math on how many more heterosexual people there are than transgender people. I have nothing against transgender people at all; I have a couple of close family members who are transgender. I just think that the rights of the majority of people get sacrificed for the minorities. I don’t know what the answer is. But transgender people are not being denied access to bathrooms now, they are being told to use the bathroom that corresponds to their body part.

    • Mary, you are confused somewhat in your terminology and I would like to correct that for you. Firstly, transgender man is a person who identifies as male, a transgender woman is a person who identifies as female. Secondly, gender does not have to do with sexual identity. There are trans women in relationships with men and trans women in relationships with women. Now that is cleared up on to your other point. Transgender women are subject to frequent assault and sexual harassment by men. Imagine if you will a trans woman wearing a dress and high heels (I use this just as an example. Trans women can present in many different ways, some more femme than others). Do you believe this woman feels safe going into a men’s room and would it be appropriate for her to do so? Now take a trans man in a suit who has a full beard (again just an example). Should he be using the women’s room? The truth is you have probably been sharing the women’s room with trans women your entire life and just didn’t know it. Do you really pay that much attention to who is going into the locked stall next to you? Why are you so fixated on people’s body parts? I have never seen another woman’s body parts in a bathroom in 34 years of my life.

      • If truth be known, I feel that people do not fear trans (people) but perverts. And that’s a total different topic. As far as school age children are concerned, I think it would be fine for them to use the restroom they are trans (ing) to, as most students go to the restrooms at the same time. As for adults, I have seen restrooms built in an L shape with no door at the entrance. The stalls do have doors. If necessary, anyone in trouble can be heard from the outside.

  2. Lea Ann Coffey says:

    You can pee next to me!

    Trans folk are persecuted ENOUGH. Keep your eyes on your own stall and you’ll be fine. Signs and legislation haven’t stopped anyone with nefarious purposes prior, and they surely won’t now.

    Perhaps the correct legislation needs to be similar to that from the ADA – all public places must have a gender-neutral restroom option!

    #ProblemSolved

  3. Anonymous says:

    Can we pretty please introduce some facts and data into this conversation?

    It is irresponsible for adults, teachers, and librarians to encourage gender dysphoria in children. (Adolescents are a different story). The Fenway Institute is one of the world’s leading research locations for inquiry into LGBTQIA issues and the largest such institute in America. In a recent publication and presentation by Stewart Adelson, MD and Walter Bockting, Ph.D., the Co-Directors of the LGBT Health Initiative, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, the Institute said:

    * Gender Dysphoria is not the Same in Children as it is in Adolescents

    * In children, the salient disjunction of assigned gender is with gender expression in play, clothing, and peer preference, and in some also with primary sex characteristics

    * In adolescents, the secondary sex characteristics acquire increasing salience

    * Gender dysphoria remaining through adolescence usually persists long-term

    * However, most childhood gender dysphoria has not persisted in various clinical samples (eg., persistence rates of 1.5% to 37% by adolescence)

    * Instead, many gender dysphoric children become homosexual or bisexual but not transgender by adolescence/adulthood

    * Non-transgender, non-heterosexual outcome especially likely for natal males, less for natal females

    http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Caring-for-Gender-Dysphoric-Children-and-Adolescents.pdf.

  4. We are made male or female by our creator. Biologically it can be proven (for those who need proof). Gender is determined by chromosomes – not culture. In an effort to advance transgender rights, the implications for those of us who do not identify with that culture is indifference. Whose rights are being violated? No one is being blocked from using the bathroom. Who are the vulnerable children? The vast majority of vulnerable children are those who identify with their god-given sex and visit that specific bathroom. We don’t need indoctrinated training. We are clear on this point. I do possess core values and am disheartened by the very liberal agenda we are allegedly to be in agreement with.

  5. Thank you School Library Journal! What a great article!

    I am so sad for my trans students when this becomes a “hot” topic. I find the argument “but what about the safety of the other students” so interesting. As librarians, we teach students to research facts and to reflect on the data from respected sources, we should stand proudly and declare that the ONLY hostile incidents recorded on public record regarding a trans person in a bathroom are acts of violence AGAINST THE TRANS people.

    As a librarian, we prepare students to debate. To find the weakness in an argument that is based on emotion. This emotion can be a knee jerk reaction to the “change from the past”. But when we question safety, we should be addressing actual statistics. Not fear. When you replace the word transgender, with the word black, you will find direct primary source quotes of people who worried about the “safety of their children” if blacks were allowed to use the same bathrooms as their children.

    Please do some research. Read some great fiction about trans teens. Become the student that learns about this before typing out a response that seems discriminatory. When your children look at how you treat others, they see who you are. As they tell their children about you, what are they going to recall? Be on the right side of history on this.

    Not that that this should matter, but I am a conservative…now leaning liberal Catholic who taught Religious Education for 7 years. I have been married for 31 years to a man and I don’t think I could look more straight and narrow if I tried. I only share this because too often if we don’t like the message we’re reading, we make assumptions about the writer. I’d like to find some commonality here. What we have in common is that we all care about students. All of them.

    I’m currently reading Symptoms of being Human by Jeff Garvin. What a perfectly timed book for this conversation.

    Again, thank you SLJ and all those who stand up for the minorities. These students need support. All students need support.

    • Anonymous says:

      Read the research is exactly what I am saying. The research at the Fenway Institute indicates that teachers, librarians, and administrators should not encourage elementary and middle school children with gender dysphoria, because the chances are far better than average that the student will reconnect with their biological sex. High school is a different issue and situation. For the long term good of elementary and middle school students, let’s not let our feelings get in the way of what the research shows. Be on the right side of science, not just emotion. Bathroom policy can and should be different in elementary/middle school and high school.

  6. Just as when a parent objects to a book based on a paragraph, I think I should note that the selected passage noted above is from this link to quote.
    http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Caring-for-Gender-Dysphoric-Children-and-Adolescents.pdf
    After the quote noted above, 2 slides later,this same report states that Gender dysphoria can emerge in childhood or in adolescence as well as in adulthood. Also that as of 2012, speciality clinics report more gender dysphoric youth coming forward for care and at younger ages in the past 10 years. It goes on to state that support needs to be given. It’s now 2017. One to one initiatives at schools have given more students more access to computers and therefore access to answers to questions they have about themselves. Many in the GSA have spoken about the wonders of the internet in helping them. They used to feel as though no one in the world could relate to them or understand them. Having internet access has allowed them connect to others and to realize that while they are not in the majority, they are not alone.

    Supporting students and helping them where they are at right now is not the same as “promoting” or “encouraging”. Adults in positions where the word “support” is literally part of their job description should do just that. Support our students. Read more books. Read the full report on the somewhat dated research. We’re not throwing a party for the trans kids every time they use the bathroom. We’re just letting them go to the bathroom.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Somewhat dated.”

      When we’re impugning the research of maybe the most respected institutes on
      GLBTQIA issues in the world, we’re in trouble. Sort of the way the climate change deniers impugn the research of highly respected labs. True, the Fenway Institute doctors acknowledge gender dysphoria emerging young. The crucial point is that between 63% and 99% of gender dysphoric children (not adolescents, children) end up identifying with their biological sex. It is anti-science to encourage children in their gender dysphoria, and I wish librarians would be at the forefront of sharing this knowledge with administrators and teachers in their schools. Let’s not complicate these children’s lives with our own misplaced emotional responses. Reduce the ostracism, but support long term mental health in children. Or, as the pertinent slide from the presentation itself says…

      Gender Dysphoria: Clinical Issues in Children

       Peer problems & anxiety common
       Goals: reduce ostracism, support mental health
       Most gender dysphoria found to fade around age 10-13
       Early gender transition may relieve immediate distress, but complicate transition to former gender role later on.

      Thank you for raising this important issue.

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