Today I am writing about transgender teen Gavin Grimm and the simplest civil rights issue of all, which bathroom to use.
I never thought I'd be writing about bathrooms. It was not exactly my favorite part of being a Principal. But it still mattered. A lot can happen in a couple minutes in an unsupervised bathroom. Bullying is usually out of sight and I doubt there are cameras.
I admit I have gone in men's rooms on more than one occasion, when the women's lines were their usual snake down the corridor. But I have never had to worry on a routinized basis which door to enter.
When I have Morgan, our Kinder with me, she knows to walk into the door with the picture of the skirt, not the pants door. But what if she decides later that she is really wanting to be with the pants door?
After raising four kids, I understand how a parent feels, being 'mama and papa bear' to protect our unique children. Really we are all the same, and we owe respect to any and all variations in society at large, at home, and in this situation, at school.
First and foremost, all schools are obligated to provide a safe and orderly environment. All staff have a "duty to protect". Providing safe schools is number one priority. Before culture. Before curriculum. Before all else.
When I wrote my Title IX blog, I had no idea all the ramifications and facets it truly covered. I believe it protects the civil rights of LGBTQ students, but I'm sure that is subject to interpretation. We're about to find out.
I do know that school administrators and teachers need direction how to best support the rights of transgender students. On February 22, '17 the Trump administration took back President Obama's decision that transgender kids should use the bathroom (or locker room) matching their identity, not necessarily birth gender identification.
This greatly affected one teen, in particular, Gavin Grimm, beginning nearly two years ago. Gavin, who came out as transgender in '14, simply wanted to use the boys' bathroom, matching his gender choice. He was a sophomore and didn't want to change schools, as suggested.
The rural Virginia school, after hearing from 'enough' parents, told Gavin he could use either his own designated bathroom stall, or in the nurse's office, Gavin decided to sue. For about two years the case has been working its way through the courts and finally made it to the Supreme Court.
Gavin did not intend to be the face of a national bathroom debate. He simply wanted to be heard.
This week, on Monday, the long awaited answer did not arrive for Gavin. Nor did it arrive for parents, the LGBTQ community or schools. We do not know whether Title IX does in fact protect these vulnerable students, depending on interpretation. It certainly should, as it clearly prohibits discrimination whether by touch or words, no bullying. Hands-off.
Title IX provides major Civil Rights protection for all children. It bars sex discrimination in public schools but does that extend all the way to transgender students?
The Supreme Court decided to send the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit due to new circumstances. It is such an important question reaching into bathrooms, showers, locker rooms, etc.
Apparently until the February 22 '17 Presidential order, Obama's '16 position on transgender student rights formed the basis of prior decisions favoring Grimm and his cause. What will happen now, or next is vague and unclear, excepting that the Appeals Court will have to review and reconsider the case.
Until then it appears inconsistent local policies will guide how transgender students are treated. It adds a burden to School Boards, Principals who may be making decisions on a case by case business and opens a Pandora's box of vulnerabilities regarding possible lawsuits.
The reality, to me is that all our children deserve respect and have a right to identify with gender, not necessarily birth identification, as boy or girl. We cannot meet educational needs until Maslow's basic needs are met.
Attempted suicide rates for transgender community is thought to be 40%, 50% for those who were bullied at school. Children of color may be at even greater risk.
The guideline reversal may have slipped past us with all recent events shaking our Country. Changes are coming fast and furiously, whether we agree or disagree.
It is not my intent to make a political statement of any sort, simply to help create a larger awareness of this argument. Additionally, I hope we stand up for these children with or without support of Title IX, just meeting our moral and ethical obligations as parents, educators and members of the larger society.
When we talk about growth mindset, grit and a positive school culture reaching and meeting the needs of all students, let's keep close watch on the kiddos in our care who need to use the bathroom, just like we do. Part of the human condition.
Transgender children know whether they identify as male or female and that decision has to be respected and protected.
There are many sources of information for you to read about this important issue. I am sharing a few just to get you started.
Here are several resources:
A basic informational source for you with questions and answers:
Check this resource, Huffington Post articles about transgender bathrooms:
Here's one more, U.S. poll about how people regard transgender bathrooms:
And be sure to start with transgender bathroom bills in Wikipedia.
Yesterday advocacy groups and several parents of transgender students met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. They shared concerns about the removal of gender protection and told stories of the torment and depression suffered by their children.
I certainly hope bathroom usage is not a political issue, but a children's civil rights discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
I also hope to learn that DeVos, who already expressed some concern before signing on to the elimination of Obama's guidelines, mitigates the situation in some meaningful way.
We make the difference in the learning lives of all children.
I believe we are all servant leaders, hopefully making sound decisions and forming solid judgments based on truth, merit and not simply advocacy.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita