New Guidance for Transgender Non-Discrimination Law in Schools

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. (Nov. 2011, TRT Archives)  Photo: TRT Archives/Glenn Koetzner

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. (Nov. 2011, TRT Archives)
Photo: TRT Archives/Glenn Koetzner

BOSTON, Mass.  — The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Feb. 15 issued comprehensive guidelines that aim to ensure Massachusetts public schools comply with the new transgender non-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination against transgender students in all school programs and activities. The DESE guidelines were praised by an array of advocates, educators, families and youth.

“The guidelines offer practical, expert advice to ensure that transgender students have equal educational opportunities including the chance to learn in a safe, affirming environment,” said Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. “GLAD applauds DESE for issuing commonsense guidance and for taking leadership in ensuring schools’ compliance with the new law.”

“This very practical guidance answers the questions we hear over and over, giving schools, parents, and students a blueprint for implementing change,” said Deborah Peeples, board president of Greater Boston PFLAG and the parent of a transgender youth. “As primary advocates, parents and families need to know how we can expect schools to handle critical issues like proper name and pronoun usage, privacy, and access to both appropriate facilities and opportunities. It’s much easier to move forward when we’re all on the same page and working together. Kudos to the DESE.”

“Coming out as transgender in school is such a difficult process and being unable to be out and feel safe is detrimental to a person’s education,” said Carter Blake, a 23-year-old graduate of Dorchester High School who is transgender. “I think these guidelines, which will help schools make transgender students feel safe and respected at school, will make a real difference in the lives of transgender kids in schools across our state, and that’s a good thing.”

“Research shows that transgender and gender non-conforming students suffer higher rates of verbal harassment, physical harassment, and physical assault in school. We also know that there is a lot of misunderstanding about transgender students and that some schools may not have the internal expertise to address all issues of concern as they arise,” said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. “MTPC is grateful to DESE for issuing such practical guidance and identifying the steps that schools can take to create a safer and more welcoming environment for transgender youth in our Commonwealth’s schools.”

Among the areas that the guidelines address are:

  • The proper use of names and pronouns for transgender students
  • Privacy and confidentiality policies for transgender students
  • Appropriate names and gender markers on student records, including diplomas
  • Appropriate access to restrooms and locker rooms
  • Physical education and athletic participation
  • Education and training for teachers about transgender students

“Transgender students, like all students, need a school environment where they are treated fairly and respectfully so that they can focus on getting the education that they need and deserve,” said Grace Sterling Stowell, the executive director of Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth (BAGLY). “The DESE guidance gives our public schools the tools to create just that environment.”

“We commend the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the speedy release of guidance that spells out in no uncertain terms the protections assured to transgender and gender nonconforming students in Massachusetts,” said Julian Cyr, chair of the Mass. Commission for GLBT Youth. “Under Governor Patrick’s leadership, state agencies continue to close gaps in service delivery and education policy that persist for LGBT youth in the Commonwealth. This guidance is an important step toward leveling the playing field for transgender students.”

“This guidance from DESE is going to make an immediate difference in the lives of transgender students, who desperately need protection and leadership from our schools,” said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality. “We appreciate DESE’s role in making sure that transgender students across our Commonwealth have the same educational opportunities that all students in our public schools enjoy.”

“As a former high school teacher, I know the vast majority of educators are well-intentioned and want to create a climate of respect and safety so that all of their students can reach their full potential,” said Arthur Lipkin, who spent 20 years teaching in Cambridge’s school system. “As a long-serving member of the Mass. Commission for GLBT Youth, I also know that there is a learning curve on the part of many educators on transgender issues. The guidance gives them important tools to provide properly for the safety and educational needs of transgender students, and I commend DESE for its leadership in creating it. Of course, the results will depend on the resources made available to schools for technical assistance and training. We need to be vigilant and constructive.”

The Transgender Equal Rights Law, officially titled “An Act Relative to Gender Identity,” was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in November 2011. It took effect in July 2012. The law prohibits discrimination against transgender people in the areas of employment, housing, credit, and education. It also amended the state’s definition of a hate crime to include crimes motivated by prejudice against a person’s gender identity.

You can read the guidelines here.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England ’s leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.

[From a News Release]

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