Earlier this month, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued a letter outlining what a public school’s responsibilities are to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and how both DOJ and DOE will evaluate a school’s compliance. The guidance is not legally binding, but is rooted in legal precedent and a growing awareness of the urgent need to ensure all students – including transgender students – feel safe and supported at school.
There’s been a lot of heated rhetoric directed toward the Obama administration in the wake of the guidance, and a lot of misinformation about what it means to be transgender. This editorial memo is meant to clarify the challenges confronting transgender youth all across the country, as well as the administrative and legal standing for the DOJ and DOE recommendations.
- Nearly two dozens K-12 school districts and four universities, which collectively serve 1.5 million students, have implemented nondiscrimination policies as modeled by the recent Education Department guidance. In all of these schools, these policies have been implemented without endangering anyone’s privacy or safety.
- The passage of HB 2 in North Carolina has launched an important and necessary conversation about what it means to be transgender, who transgender people are, and what the specific cultural and legal challenges are that prevent them from living their lives safely and openly.
- Transgender Americans are already one of our most vulnerable and unprotected populations – and that vulnerability is particularly acute for transgender youth. Nearly nine in ten transgender students are verbally harassed at school due to their gender identity and more than half have been physically assaulted, according to a 2009 GLSEN survey.
- There’s growing legal precedent for the guidance. The Department of Education first announced in 2014 that Title IX protections covered transgender students. Last month, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Virginia transgender teenager Gavin Grimm, declaring that his local school board’s move to ban him from using the public restroom that matched his gender identity violates Title IX regulations. In December 2015, the Department of Education settled a complaint with a school district in Palatine, IL — following a similar case in Arcadia, CA — affirming that transgender discrimination is illegal sex discrimination.
Consequences for Trans Youth
Opponents of transgender equality have lambasted the administration for issuing this needed guidance. What they’re ignoring, however, are the very real challenges facing transgender youth all across the country. According to GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey:
- More than 75 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school.
- Nearly 60 percent of transgender students have been forced to use a bathroom or locker room inconsistent with their gender identity.
- More than 63 percent of transgender students avoid using public restrooms because of fears of harassment or assault.
- Every student should have a fair chance to succeed in school. But when anti-trans policies single out transgender youth for isolation and harm, there are consequences that extend into their academic careers as well. According to the National School Climate Survey, the hostile atmosphere in schools can damage a student’s self-esteem, hurt their GPA and ultimately make these students less likely to plan for college.
- It’s unsurprising, then, that transgender youth face greater mental health challenges because of the hostile environments in which they often find themselves. According to a January 2015 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health:
- Transgender youth are significantly more likely than cisgender (non-transgender) youth to face depression – 50.6 percent to 20.6 percent.
- Transgender youth experience significantly higher levels of anxiety than their cisgender peers, 27.6 percent to 10 percent.
- Transgender youth are more than three times as likely to contemplate suicide – 31.1 percent to 11.1 percent.
- Restricting or outright denying transgender students access to restroom facilities can cause serious problems for someone’s physical health. Some transgender students will avoid eating or drinking, dehydrating themselves to prevent themselves from using an unsafe restroom. This can cause long-term health problems like urinary tract infections.
- These statistics offer just some insight into the urgency behind the administration’s guidelines. That’s why there’s federal funding on the line for states like North Carolina – states that go out of their way to jeopardize the safety and well-being of transgender people, particularly youth.
- States that willingly violate Title IX risk losing their federal education funding – as well as seeing a host of other federal funding streams go dry. The Williams Institute found that a ballot measure denying transgender students access to restrooms in Washington State would cost the state $4.3 billion a year in federal education dollars including student loans and college funding. North Carolina’s HB 2 threatens $4.3 billion in funding for public schools, colleges and universities.
- There is so much at stake with the policies that guide what kinds of atmospheres we create in the schools our children attend. The DOJ and DOE guidance is a commonsense and long-overdue measure to ensure that all students can attend school in safe and nurturing environments.
- Claims that this type of guidance exposes anyone to harm are patently false and intentionally misleading. In fact, comprehensive nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender Americans are on the books in 17 states and more than 200 cities, and there has been no increase in threats to public safety or privacy.
Anti-LGBT Organizations Masquerading as Safety and Privacy Groups
All of the groups below attempt to masquerade as mainstream organizations with reputable missions, particularly within the context of nondiscrimination and transgender equality discussions. All of the organizations are, however, steeped in anti-LGBT animus:
Family Research Council
Perhaps the best-known anti-LGBT group, FRC president Tony Perkins still appears on mainstream media outlets, despite asserting that pedophilia “is a homosexual problem,” and equating same-sex marriage with bestiality. Recently Perkins described the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign as a “concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”
American Family Association
AFA and its affiliated media outlets “American Family Radio” and One News Now, promote a rabidly anti-LGBT worldview. AFA equates homosexuality with pedophilia and asserts that “as with smoking…[its] second-hand effects threaten public health.” Spokesman Bryan Fischer has made innumerable racist and anti-Muslim statements in addition to stating “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund)
ADF files lawsuits and advocates against LGBT rights domestically and internationally. They recently have helped draft and promote many of the anti-LGBT bills proposed in statehouses around the country. ADF president Alan Sears, in his book “The Homosexual Agenda: The Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today,” wrote that homosexuality and pedophilia are “intrinsically linked.” A senior ADF attorney has stated that one’s right to religious liberty includes the right to refuse service to someone in a restaurant.
Focus On The Family/Family Policy Alliance
Focus on the Family and its newly rebranded 501c4 arm, the Family Policy Alliance, is the oldest anti-LGBT group. FOTF argues that homosexuality is “preventable and treatable.” Leader Jim Daly describes LGBT people as a “threat to civilization.” The Family Policy Alliance (formerly CitizenLink) coordinates the anti-LGBT efforts of numerous state-based affiliate “family policy councils.”
Closely affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (founder Mat Staver also serves as Dean of the University’s law school), Liberty Counsel aggressively advocates and litigates an anti-LGBT agenda. In addition to defending Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, Liberty Counsel defended Scott Lively, the American pastor behind Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” law. Staver equates being gay with being a pedophile and supports “conversion therapy” for children, claiming that LGBT kids are the result of molestation.
American College of Pediatricians
A fringe group of approximately 200 anti-LGBT healthcare professionals issues press releases with the intent of being mistaken for the mainstream and apolitical American Academy of Pediatrics. ACP links LGBT people with pedophiles, stating on its blog “Why isn’t the movement of LGBT not the PLGBT movement: “P” for pedophile?” It also asserts “there is sound evidence that children exposed to the homosexual lifestyle may be at increased risk for emotional, mental, and even physical harm.”
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons
The ultra-conservative organization has a litany of anti-science beliefs, including that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and that being gay reduces life expectancy. It claims that there are “serious medical consequences” to homosexuality that require public education akin to warning people about “the risks of smoking or obesity.” It also claims that participation in Medicare or Social Security is “evil” and “immoral.” It also asserts links between autism and vaccinations.
Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (formerly “NARTH”- National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality)
Following the revocation of its tax-exempt status in 2012, NARTH rebranded itself in 2014 as an institute within “The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity.” Nevertheless, its purpose remains pushing junk science to support “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Founder Charles Socarides stated simply “Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it.” Another founder, Joseph Nicolodi, posted an essay justifying slavery on NARTH’s website, asserting “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle. … Life there was savage … and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”