On 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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