Transgender Students and the “Bathroom Bill”

In May of 2016 the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to schools regarding transgender students.  The "Dear Colleague" letter outlined obligations and explained how they would evaluate a school's compliance.  States are working to balance privacy and safety with concerns about nondiscriminatory access to public facilities, including bathrooms.

In response to an increasing number of questions from parents, teachers, principals, and school superintendents about civil rights protections for transgender students, The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice letter states that "Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and its implementing regulations prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student's gender identity, including discrimination based on a student's transgender status."  The letter also states that "As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations."

In August, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction blocking federal government agencies from taking action against school districts that don't follow federal guidance issued on transgender bathroom policies in schools.  At question is the definition of sex and/or gender.  Nineteen states have considered legislation in 2016 that would restrict access to multiuser restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities on the basis of a definition of sex or gender consistent with sex assigned at birth or "biological sex."  The departments' letter defines gender identity as "an individual's internal sense of gender," and says "a person's gender identity may be different from or the same as the person's sex assigned at birth." 

More information on legislative actions and the outcomes of court cases in your state can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures website, "Bathroom Bill" Legislative Tracking.

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