As an educator, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing students advocate for themselves and for their peers. Last year Santee Education Complex made national headlines for moving towards all-gender restrooms and being the the first school in the Los Angeles Unified School District to fearlessly advocate and succeed in this endeavor. The Gay Straight Alliance, a student-led group at Santee, campaigned, led a petition, and met with numerous stakeholders to advocate for students of different genders to use the same bathroom at the same time as they hoped to create awareness of the fact that more people were considering gender not to be binary. The students felt that was important to allow for everyone to feel like they can simply use the restroom without fearing exclusion and judgment. In light of the attention Santee was receiving, students who were directly impacted by this shift spoke out.
One example of students owning the bathroom issue was Alonzo, a student who had transitioned from female to male the fall prior to the change in policy. Students had known him as a girl and thus created a discomfort for him when attempting to use the male restroom, which caused him to sometimes avoid using the restroom all day. For him, the ability to use the restroom without being questioned about his gender was necessary.
Alonzo’s story is just one of many students who are simply seeking to feel comfortable in a space that they spent much of their day in: school. Santee’s advocacy work coincided with a guidance issued under President Barack Obama’s Administration mandating that any school that received federal funding should treat a student’s gender identity as his or her sex. Thus, schools would be required to allow transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponded to their gender identity, rather than the sex assigned to them at birth.
Unfortunately, on Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it will no longer bar schools from discriminating against transgender students, rescinding Obama’s guidance. According to a statement made by General Jeff Sessions, “The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment…[but] the prior guidance documents did not contain sufficient legal analysis…The Department of Education and the Department of Justice therefore have withdrawn the guidance.”
While this is a major step backwards in our fight towards equal rights, it does not change the law. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex. This means that regardless of Obama’s guidance, the case is still the same: transgender students cannot be excluded from restrooms or otherwise denied equal educational opportunities because of who they are as that constitutes discrimination.
With this new action, the Trump administration is sending a negative message to our students and their families. Obama’s guidance outlined a school’s responsibility and thus allowed for students and parents to serve as better advocate for themselves. Without it, we are simply making school harder for many students. With this announcement, there is fear that changing policies at unsupportive school districts will create an uphill battle for many students. It will be up to local school districts and states to create their own policies to protect all students and create environments that are inclusive, safe, and respect a student’s whole being. More than ever, we must all be advocates for our students who will be the ones to suffer the aftermath of the Trump administration’s actions. Our children need us to be ready and prepared to protect them.
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