ROSMY responds and learns from new federal policies for transgender students
The Obama Administration spent last week informing public schools around the country that the rights of transgender students are indeed civil rights and they deserve the same, equal treatment as other students.
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a press release sent out last Thursday.
Included in the release was a list of rules and policies to help accommodate trans students like treating students consistent with their gender identity despite school records and allowing students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity.
“Our guidance sends a clear message to transgender students across the country: here in America, you are safe, you are protected and you belong – just as you are,” Gupta said. “We look forward to working with school officials to make the promise of equal opportunity a reality for all of our children.”
As you can imagine, Gupta’s comments include children in and around the Richmond area and the folks at the TD did some leg work to see where many of them stand:
In Chesterfield County, school officials will continue working with individual students and their families to “determine appropriate accommodations.”
… representatives of Richmond-area school districts said they are assessing the directive to see how they will move forward or if changes need to be made to their current approach.
While comments from Henrico were absent, it shows schools systems have already been dealing with these issues in their own way, and some of that might be thanks to one group that has been working to advocate for local LGBTQ kids for over two decades: ROSMY.
The city’s best know youth-support group, ROSMY not only offers services for kids, it also offers training through their Institute for Equality for teachers, principals, guidance counselors and other youth service providers in the area.
Ted Lewis, ROSMY’s recently appointed Executive Director, said they weren’t so much surprised by the DOE and DOJ’s statements, as it’s something they’ve been working with for some time.
“Over the last three years, we’ve trained about 3000 service providers,” Lewis said, noting since the inception of the Institute for Equality some years ago, best practices for transgender students have been core to the program.
Without much official guidance from state or federal agencies, Lewis said ROSMY took most of the program’s ideas straight from trans youth as they faced issues in their every day lives.
“It’s always best to do whats in the best interest of the child,” said Lewis. “We feel like honoring a child’s gender identity is what’s best and that includes allowing them to participate in line with their gender identity.”
This policy, according to Lewis, lines up with a Department of Justice announcement made back in 2014 which already reaffirmed transgender protections under the “sex” clause in title IX. But rather than the 2014 statement saying “you can’t discriminate,” the new guidance is specific in details with advise for uninformed educators.
“They pulled policies from schools across the country where they are doing this well,” Lewis said, noting the policies didn’t just come from liberal annexes like New York and California. “There are examples of on the ground, real people, real schools, who have implemented these policies.”
Lewis believes the new clarification will also help ROSMY better communicate with schools in the future.
“[The DOE letter] offered some specific language that is more in line with language schools use,” they said. Where ROSMY might tell teachers it’s not right to “out” a student to other students, the DOE said it’s against Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to disclose a students former name or gender identity. Forcing a trans child into a segregated, trans-only bathroom would also be an example of “outing” them.
“We’ve been saying the same thing, we just haven’t been using the same language,” Lewis said. “And that will help guide us to speak the language of schools.”
While Lewis and others are excited about the federal policy clarification, there are others in the area who are less excited. Among them is the Richmond-based conservative group The Family Foundation.
“For teachers, try calling a gender-confused junior-high boy a “he,” and be prepared to face a credible charge of federal civil rights discrimination on the basis of “sex,” wrote the Family Foundation in a release shortly after the policy was sent out to educators last week. “If little Johnny refers to little Suzie as “her,” when Suzie thinks she may be a boy, little Johnny is likely to get a trip to the principal’s office for “correction.” And if Johnny persists, he’s likely to be suspended for “bullying.””
It’s comments like this that really bother Lewis, who asked that people try and remember who these policies are for: already stigmatized young people who are just looking to fit in.
“When we’re talking about transgender young people, that’s not the same as a sexual predator,” Lewis said. “Continuing to combine those two things continues to demonize transgender people and especially transgender youth… that has a cost on the youth we see when we continually see educators or people in the media talking about how horrible they are.”
It’s important to remember this policy is a result of the Obama administration’s actions and guidance, and challenges in NC over HB2, as well as a more conservative Executive branch could reverse these policies. But until then, Lewis and ROSMY are there.
Find out more about ROSMY and their Institute for Equality here.
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