The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) applauds the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Downey Unified School District for its resolution of a Title IX discrimination complaint filed by a transgender student against the school district. This resolution marks another crucial step towards ensuring that all students, regardless of their gender identity or expression, are afforded the same rights and protections in their schools.
The student, a young transgender girl, filed the original complaint alleging that the school failed to respond to her complaints regarding verbal harassment, she was subjected to, disciplined the student for wearing make up, discouraged her from speaking about her gender identity to her classmates, and suggested that she transfer. Under their agreement, Downey Unified School District will ensure that the student is able to access the same facilities as other female students, and continue her education without fear of being disciplined based on her gender identity and expression. Additionally, Downey Unified has committed to ensure that all gender nonconforming and transgender students have access to a safe learning environment.
While Downey Unified and OCR’s agreement is commendable, transgender and gender nonconforming students nationwide continue to face unsafe and hostile school conditions that are a barrier to their academic success. According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey, 55.2% of LGBT students reported that they had experienced verbal harassment based on their gender expression, and of that, 20% reported that they had experienced the harassment frequently. In particular, the study found that transgender and gender nonconforming students were disproportionately affected by discrimination in schools; more than three quarters (75.1%) of transgender students felt unsafe at school due to their gender identity, compared to 66.4% of genderqueer students, 55% of students with other gender identities, and less than a third of cisgender females (26%) and males (31.1%). Additionally, almost two-thirds of transgender students (63.4%) reported avoiding the bathrooms, versus less than 40% of all other groups of students. These statistics show that gender-based discrimination is still pervasive in schools across the country.
We encourage anyone who has experienced discrimination due to their gender identity or gender stereotypes in an educational setting to file a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or with their state or local civil rights agency. You can use NCTE’s Your Rights at School resource to learn more about existing protections and filing Title IX complaints. Additionally, you can use NCTE and GLSEN’s Model School District Policy to advocate for stronger policies and protections in your school district.
This is a strong resolution to a serious case of discrimination. Not only will it set a tone for other schools and encourage other students and families to come forward, but the measures Downey Unified has pledged to adopt will help ensure that future transgender and gender nonconforming students will have a safe and accepting learning environment. At the same time, this case underscores the need for Congress to pass the Student Nondiscrimination Act in order to send an unequivocal message and secure protections for LGBT students nationwide.