[I have been putting this post together for a few weeks now so some of the information is not that new, but still important to consider in the overall landscape of trans rights in education. I will post again soon about additional stories that are more recent.]
I am stealing this line from Ed Mazza's HuffPo piece about genital inspections as a prerequisite for public bathroom use. (see end of post for more on this):
"It may be a New Year, but the same old battle over bathrooms is starting all over again."
So here we go:
South Dakota considered legislation that would prevent transgender students from using bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender. This is despite the fact that the government has already made clear its stance on this issue when it recently intervened in the case of young girl in Illinois who was prevented from using the girls' locker room.The state's House of Representatives approved the bill by a wide margin (58-10). The bill's author specifically discussed the so-called incursion of the federal government into schools: "The federal government is now telling our schools that these students
must have full, unrestricted access to restrooms, locker rooms and
shower rooms," Deutsch said. "This means our schools must allow biologic
boys and girls to use the same facilities together regardless of
biologic sex." Another proponent of the bill said the "movement of transgenderism" is "endorsing confusion in the lives of little kids for whom we're responsible." The bill moves to the senate and then, if passed, to the governor's desk. Though he has not read it, he said it seems like a good idea. If it gets that far, I see lawsuits.
Another issue in Oregon. It was in Oregon, at George Fox University, where the issue of religious colleges receiving Title IX exemptions first drew media attention (though the requests had begun before that). This time a high school is debating whether a transgender student can use the boys' bathroom. Like in South Dakota, everyone knows about what happened in Illinois, and opponents do not seem to care. At a school board meeting in December, in which this issue was not on the agenda but had gained enough local attention that parents flocked to the meeting, many people had things to say. Earlier in the fall, a letter had been sent home explaining that a trans student would begin to use the boys' locker room for gym class.
We have not been writing about every case of transgender discrimination in K-12, and this one has--seemingly--only just begun. I give it attention here because it was one of the saddest stories I had read in quite a while. Other cases such as that of Nicole Maines or Gavin Grimm or Jayce (the George Fox student) included testimony from their parents, who all stood/are standing behind their children. The paths to this place were different among the parents, but they all got there. The child at the center of this latest controversy does not have that support. Elliot Yoder's mother has not quite gotten there. This is not to say that she will not, but this fight is happening now. And Yoder walked to the front of that meeting hall by himself after standing in the back of the room listening to people talk about him. They invoked the usual: religious freedom (it's a public school) and fears about sexual assault and spying by students pretending to be something they are not. They added some threats of violence. And then Yoder walked to the front of the meeting hall, after hearing members of his own family and some of his friends support his exclusion from the boys' bathroom, and explained his situation.
This is why we need education and legislation about transgender student rights. Because I imagine there are many more students in Yoder's situation--ones who do not have family or local support--who cannot bring themselves to speak out in front of a crowd of people who are, for all intents and purposes, against them. When clear laws and policies are in place and supported vehemently by the administration, then these students can begin to exercise their rights even if they do not have a lot of people in their corner.
In Texas, school superintendents have voted that student athletes must compete according to the sex listed on their birth certificates. The University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, had this policy informally but punted a final decision to the superintendents' association. The overwhelming vote in favor a birth certificate policy puts the state in line with only six others.
On a happier note for transgender athletes, but one that has nothing to do with Title IX, the International Olympic Committee has changed its policy regarding the conditions under which transgender athletes can participate. The major change from the previous policy is that participants do not have to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As many critics of former iterations of the policy have noted, surgery is not a performance enhancer and often recovery from surgery can impede an athlete's training. MTF individuals will have to be able to prove they have sustained a specified testosterone level for at least a year. FTM athletes can compete without restriction. This means, I presume, that there will be an exception made for exogenous testosterone. I find this curious given how concerned the IOC has been about testosterone levels.
Though the IOC will apply these rules to Olympic participants, the new policy serves only as a recommendation to other international federations. In other words, governing bodies in any sport can implement their own rules.
And to end on a smh moment: a Virginia state delegate in the House of Representatives has proposed genital inspections before people go into public bathrooms, including students going into school bathrooms. It may be wrong to even mention this, but genital inspections do not reveal sex. Ask the International Olympic Committee circa 1960. This is, of course, beside the point. What the senator is trying to do is to prevent transpeople from using the bathrooms in accordance with their lived gender. The measure calls for a $50 fine for anyone using a bathroom not in accordance with anatomical sex. The fine can be issued by any law enforcement officer. So in an age where fears of pedophilia abound, there is a proposal calling for adults to inspect children's genitals. Again, pointing out all the problems with this proposal is an exercise in futility. The point is that it is being proposed to shame and out transpeople.
[Don't forget: Virginia is the state where Gavin Grimm is fighting for his right to use the boys' bathroom at Gloucester High School. He has received the support of the Obama administration in his case. The Federal Court of Appeals heard Grimm's case last week. ]
I would like to think that Mark Cole's proposal is a publicity stunt--an attempt at media attention. But I doubt it. It is a response to a perceived threat that people like Cole find so outrageous and it inspires outrageous responses. My fear is that measures that are perceived as slightly less outrageous, such as the bill in Houston will be seen as legitimate in comparison.