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Activists condemn policy to disregard gender identity in bathroom use

Trump administration states Title IX does not prohibit the separation of bathrooms based on sex

On Feb. 12, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that it would no longer investigate claims of discrimination regarding students’ inability to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities, BuzzFeed first reported.

This is the Trump administration’s first explicit confirmation of a policy shift from the Obama-era default of considering gender identity in cases of bathroom use to be protected under Title IX, according to the same BuzzFeed article. The article also said that Liz Hill, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, told BuzzFeed that Title IX did not prevent discrimination based on gender identity, and that in school bathrooms, “long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

Rhode Island LGBTQ+ advocacy groups condemned the national policy. “The decision of the U.S. Department of Education to not investigate discrimination against trans youth is unconscionable,” said Elana Rosenberg, executive director of Youth Pride Rhode Island, according to a press release from LGBTQ Action R.I. LGBTQ Action R.I. also condemned the policy, according to the press release.

“It certainly seems like this administration does not have the best interests of LGBTQ students at heart,” said Wendy Becker ’83, volunteer for Youth Pride Rhode Island and assistant professor at Rhode Island College. This context means the administration’s policy is a “proactive stance against trans kids,” she added.

“I think it’s a slight (of LGBTQ+ youth) based on fear,” said Gloria Crist, drama advisor at Tiverton High School. The fear stems from the irrational assumption that if sex-regulated bathroom use were relaxed for transgender students, the risk of sexual assault in bathrooms would increase. But “using the bathroom doesn’t mean (anyone) is going to get sexually assaulted,” she added.

Becker also described the policy as constituting “unnecessary fear,” and questioned the purpose of this policy stance. “In most places, trans kids go to the bathroom, and nobody talks about it, and nobody notices, and (everything just happens). … Trans kids have been using facilities that match their gender identity for a while now,” she said.

In Rhode Island, this national policy is unlikely to have an effect given statewide non-discrimination law related to gender identity, Becker said. Even without the national policy affecting students in Rhode Island, however, transgender students can face harassment in school. Having previously worked as a school social worker and the manager of Youth Pride Rhode Island, Becker saw “kids really be harassed in school” based on their gender identities, she added.

In the case of bathrooms, she knew of transgender students who would avoid using the bathroom the entire day, Becker said.

“The bathroom and other gendered spaces become a real difficult place for them; they feel caught in wanting to live as genuine human beings, but they’re fearful of what people are going to do or say — and that’s not a way to live,” she added.

Crist praised her school and the entire Tiverton district for having “an incredible non-discriminant(ion) policy.”

“To diminish the experience of trans kids at this time is really the opposite of the way we should be going,” Becker said, as opposed to “more information, more teacher training, more policy to really help schools with what they can do to provide appropriate environments for all their students.”

“We need to do better at letting (transgender students) know that it’s okay to be their genuine selves and use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity — and the idea that we would do anything but that is really terrible,” Becker said.


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