Transgender Rights: Coming to a School Near You?

Children are pushing the limits on carving out rights for people who identify more strongly with the opposite sex

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Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for GLAAD

Coy Mathis, right, onstage at the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on March 16, 2013 in New York City.

Grant High School in Portland, Oregon has just done something to put itself in the forefront of one of the major civil rights issues of our time. It created six unisex bathrooms. The reason: it wanted to accommodate transgender students who do not feel comfortable in the boys’ and girls’ rooms, including 17-year-old Scott Morrison (who was born male but identifies as female), who said he avoided drinking water in school because using the restroom was so stressful.

As gay rights, including same-sex marriage, become increasingly accepted, the civil rights frontline is shifting to transgender people, and increasingly to transgender students. More transgender young people are asking their schools to accommodate their gender identity – and increasingly they have state or local non-discrimination law on their side.

(MOREBathroom Battle: States Grapple With Transgender Rights)

The issue of transgender student rights made national headlines recently with the case of Coy Mathis, a six-year old who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. Her parents filed a discrimination complaint against a Colorado school district that refuses to allow Coy to use the girl’s bathroom. Coy’s age added an extra dimension to the discussion of transgender rights — even some people who support them are not sure if decisions about gender identity should be made so young. But disputes over transgender rights for young people are showing up with increasing frequency.

Connecticut high school senior Calliope Wong entered the fray recently when she protested that Smith College, the prominent Massachusetts all-women’s college, twice returned her application without reading it. Wong, who was born male but identifies as female, submitted a high school transcript and recommendation letters identifying her as female, but she told Reuters that her federal student aide documents list her as male. Wong’s supporters have taken to social media, creating a Facebook group “Trans women belong at Smith College” and a Tumblr page.

Smith College is not discussing Wong’s application directly. But in a page on its website addressing “Gender Identity & Expression” the school says that it “expects that to be eligible for review, a student’s application and supporting documentation (transcripts, recommendations, etc.) will reflect her status as a woman.” It says that applications from transgender students are “considered on a case-by-case basis.”

In these disputes, the law is frequently on the student’s side. Grant High School administrators say they wanted to create a safe and comfortable environment for all, but the students also had the backing of Oregon state law, which prohibits discrimination against transgender people. There are now 16 states and 143 cities and counties — including the nation’s five largest cities – that protect transgender people, including minors– from discrimination.

(MORE: A 6-Year-Old Boy Becomes a Girl: Do Schools Need New Rules for Transgender Students?)

In other parts of the country, however, there are signs of a backlash. In Arizona last week, a House committee approved a bill to protect businesses from liability if they prohibit transgender people from using the restroom of the gender they identify with. It could have been worse, though, for transgender Arizonans: the original version of the bill would have made it a crime for transgender people to use the “wrong” bathroom.

The reason for the backlash, however, is that transgender rights are advancing rapidly. The Arizona bill is a response to a February vote by the Phoenix City Council to extend anti-discrimination law to transgender people. In just the last few years, transgender people have won new protections in Nevada, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and cities including Nashville, Tenn., Columbia, S.C., and Kansas City, Mo.

If all of this looks familiar, it is because transgender rights seem to be following the same trajectory as same-sex marriage – from way-out idea to mainstream civil right, and at a similarly brisk pace. As poll after poll have shown, young people today are far more supportive of gay rights than older Americans. We may be seeing, in schools today, the first generation for whom it is simply obvious that transgender people have the right to equal treatment and reasonable accommodation. Unless this trajectory changes dramatically, it is likely that in a few years it will be the people who want to rigidly tie people to the sex they were born into – and who want to check students’ birth certificates at the bathroom door – who will be the societal outliers.

MORE: Transgender People in Sweden No Longer Face Forced Sterilization

34 comments
loverboy012609
loverboy012609

I am transgender FTM who is works for a Big Ten University and I was told to use certain restrooms so patrons would not complain about using the wrong restroom. The problem is that I had been using the males restroom for over year because I look like one more than a female. I started to use the males restrooms due to asking too many questions about if I was in the right restroom when I was born a female. I was doing it out of respect and feeling of safety to women in general in the public. I believe that one of my co-workers who knows that I am female and not male and has a problem with transgender individuals. This same university I am also a recent graduate which as been always my dream and with this issue it has made me sick of this university. Sad!

nehima
nehima

I would really recommend that you edit this article to say (was assigned male/female at birth) because duh, genitalia is not inherently gendered and you are being binarist by assuming so. No one knows their gender at birth seeing as they have no concept of gender at all ! Geez.

AmaliaAnna-StasiaO'Riley
AmaliaAnna-StasiaO'Riley

There is still some thing wrong with that the TSCCD say that we as Transsexual (are going throw the step to becoming a girl) girls not Transgender (are OK with change back and forth form male to Female) girls that why we as a Transsexual Community need to have clear definition of word like "Transgender and Transsexual".

Sirdarian
Sirdarian

Throughout the middle of the article, you did well in referring to people by the pronoun of the gender they identified as-- which is great! But you missed the one in the beginning: "...but identifies as female), who said he avoided". The inconsistency is rather off-putting as you read.

jasoncheung0127
jasoncheung0127

@Jane112233: Well first, unisex restrooms do exist, so its not like we have a hard and fast rule on separate gender restrooms. Second, all restrooms come with a door and a lock in front of a toilet. People typically can't tell what their neighbor's reproductive organs look like, even if they're the same gender, so the privacy problems you speak of are not actually real. And a common complaint about men in women's restroom is the fear of sexual assault/rape. Existing criminal laws and law enforcement are more than enough to handle that particular problem. Since transgenders make up such a low percentage of the population, 3% as you claim, restroom privacy rights are not likely to come up often anyway.

http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2013/04/04/

Asterisk
Asterisk

Please use respectful pronouns when referring to transgender people. Why did you refer to the student trans woman (whom you mentioned is female-identified) as "he"??

Tualha
Tualha

"...including 17-year-old Scott Morrison (who was born male but identifies as female), who said *he* avoided drinking water in school because using the restroom was so stressful."

Oh well, at least you got it right on the other two.

pendragon05
pendragon05

Since when is a child capable of deciding what gender it wants to be?


Once a child turns 18, then he or she can decide if gender reassignment is to be undergone. Until then, parents really need to start parenting their children.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Pedantic : ' unisex ' = 1 unit = 1 sex , both sexes = ' omnisex ' . In this day and age we should envelope all .

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

Just want to point out that in the case of the tranwoman and the college- the application was denied because a computer program that scans the applications picked up that on the legal definition of her gender being male. It was denied without being read because of a computer program filter not (necessarily) because the school doesn't accept transwomen. I know of other all women's colleges (one of which is catholic so yeah) that have accepted transwomen. The problem was most likely in the computer filtering system not the college's biased. 

commentonitall
commentonitall

The problem I guess is the potential for law suits and rapes.  What if someone decides they want to be "transgender" just so they can use the girls bathroom.  They are not really transgender and only adopted the title to fulfill their perverted compulsions.  What are you going to issue a special test to determine if you are transgender or not?  All it would take is one rape to happen regarding the transgender bathroom issue, it's like a loophole for pervs.  I agree that all people should be treated equal, but there are clear and obvious reasons for the separation. Let's play devil's advocate for a minute.  What if say a straight person came up with a law suit to ban all gay men from using their bathroom?  There would be a huge uproar as there should be, but how is that argument any different from that of the transgender?  I guess America has just made a problem for itself by allowing the legal system to be one that is used to make money and not uphold equality and the law.  I also have to question the young child who does not possess the reasoning ability to decide they are transgender and just how much of a role their parents are playing in order to gain publicity at the determent of their child.  Not an easy subject to tackle.  

ColinCrowe
ColinCrowe

Let the transphobic radfems attack!

Rea
Rea

@Jane112233  I find it funny that you pull a religious article with an so-called expert claiming that transgender is make believe... Yet no where in his persons testimony are his theory's backed up by any published work. He was just saying what he believes not what science and the scientific community have found. Also This article's publisher decided to use drag queens and cross-dressers as their image of the transgender spectrum. A very nice one sided biased article fit for the religious Right. Here is some actual science to invalidate this moron's testimony. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20032-transsexual-differences-caught-on-brain-scan.html and since we are talking about children http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Children-and-Adolescents-With-Gender-Identity-Disorder-Referred-to-a-Pediatric-Medical-Center.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

Have a nice day!

nehima
nehima

@Jane112233 Are you aware that transgender people, including myself, are frequently accosted by attempting to use the bathrooms that make us comfortable ? Are you serious. Oh no, we want to be treated as human beings, how deplorable ! Trans women are women and trans men are men and nonbinary trans people are nonbinary and if you don't accept that fact then you are a transphobic bigot who needs to never talk about things you do not understand.

AmandaHunter
AmandaHunter

@ShamsAci maybe we should just lock them all up right. they are different not disabled. you have walked by a transgender person in the last month and did not know it 

ozarkarts
ozarkarts

@ShamsAci 

And WHY is that?  Because some people who are not transgender are uncomfortable and do not understand the ones who are?  This is similar to the mindset of the 40's, 50's and 60's where people wanted to keep African-American in different schools, in the back of the bus, etc..!

KiraMoore
KiraMoore

@pendragon05 Okay, I can't let this pass without saying something. Just what makes you think a child cannot decide for themselves what gender they are? If you ask any gender normative 3 or 4 year old boy if "he" is a boy or girl and he answers "boy!" then you will smile and tell him he is right. You will accept this answer without a second thought. You will not question his ability to understand his own gender, you will not question if he is old enough to understand the question. You will reward him and reenforce his identity as male. 

So why, if "he" says instead they are a girl you do a one eighty and decide they are just too stupid to understand the question? Why do you insist they must be confused or too young to know themselves? 

Sorry, you can't have it both ways, either a child has a basic understanding of who they are or they don't. Just because they don't give you the answer you expect doesn't mean they don't understand the question.     

ozarkarts
ozarkarts

@pendragon05

From my reply below:  "I was born in 1960 and beaten by my parents at the age of FOUR for wearing my mother's clothes.  I was never abused in any way and was raised by parents who could not have been more perfect.  My father was a perfect role model and was in the Military, so I was a 'military brat.'  I had a perfectly normal childhood for the most part, but I was beaten all throughout my childhood by my parents trying to "stop" me from being female -- but I ALWAYS knew I was female! I quickly learned that I had to HIDE who I was.  I went through most of my life having to HIDE who I was until I finally transitioned (shocking the hell out of everyone) later in life.  My point is, you KNOW who you are and people cannot CHANGE who YOU are no matter what they do!  Do NOT think for a minute that a young child does not KNOW who they really are -- I am living proof that they do..."

As for surgery, that is not an issue since children's bodies need to mature before surgery can be done.  Hormone blockers can be used to stop development of male bone structures, body and facial hair.  Later, hormones can also be used later to help naturally develop the body correctly.  Doing this will stop YEARS of pain and cost of things like electrolysis and even very expensive and painful surgery such as facial feminization (FFS).  I only WISH I would have had parents who were smart enough to realize this back in the '60's -- but no one did back then.  Thank God today's children have this option!

Jess4Equality
Jess4Equality

@pendragon05 It appears that you are an expert on gender identity.  Where did you study?   

To answer your inane questions:  Most children realize what gender their bodies are and what gender their brain is at about 4-5 years old.   18 is already past puberty and teenage hormonal changes have already begun.  18 is too late in many cases.

"Parenting your children" as you so put it, means taking your childrens discomforts into mind and allowing them to be who they are.  Forcing them into a gender that they are not comfortable leads to suicide.

But I am sure you know more than anybody else..

YouthAllies.com
YouthAllies.com

@SarahConfran Seems implausible. Given the national publicity this has received, the school would have corrected the error by now if it was just a computer problem.  I've seen school statements on the issue, but none of that I've seen blamed a computer glitch. Mike (www.youthallies.com)

MaxinePayne
MaxinePayne

@commentonitall

Because spending thousands of dollars on PhD psychiatric and psychological examinations. Years of hormone therapy. Excruciatingly painful laser hair removal. Stressful name change legal hearings. Public malice for being yourself. And now I can finally use a girls restroom to rape all I could ever want unchecked.... Except now my penis doesn't get erect and I no longer desire to engage in sex...

Drat. Foiled my own plans.

KiraMoore
KiraMoore

@commentonitall When was the last time you saw a case where a Transwoman raped someone? Seriously. Rapists and other sexual predators are MALE, Transwomen are FEMALE.

ozarkarts
ozarkarts

@commentonitall 

There has never been a single case of a transgender woman attacking a woman in a women's rest room.  I have never heard of a man dressing up as a woman to get into a restroom to rape women either -- that just doesn't happen or it already would have.  And if it DID ever happen those men would NOT be transgender either, so don't use that argument to justify discrimination against transgender people.

Also, I was born in 1960 and beaten by my parents at the age of FOUR for wearing my mother's clothes.  I was never abused in any way and was raised by parents who could not have been more perfect.  My father was a perfect role model and was in the Military, so I was a 'military brat.'  I had a perfectly normal childhood for the most part, but I was beaten all throughout my childhood by my parents trying to "stop" me from being female -- but I ALWAYS knew I was female! I quickly learned that I had to HIDE who I was.  I went through most of my life having to HIDE who I was until I finally transitioned (shocking the hell out of everyone) later in life.  My point is, you KNOW who you are and people cannot CHANGE who YOU are no matter what they do!  Do NOT think for a minute that a young child does not KNOW who they really are -- I am living proof that they do...

Jane112233
Jane112233

@Rea  Thank you. I was skeptical of some of his "findings"

pendragon05
pendragon05

@ozarkarts I'm sorry to hear about the abuse you endured as a child. However - were you also aware of the fact that females, in this country at least - are second-class citizens?

If you chose to remain a male, you would at least be a first class-citizen.

As for surgery - it is a good thing children can't get it - what if they decide to revert back to their biological gender a week later?

 We don't let children drive, vote, or drink alcohol for a reason. Children beneath the age of reason have no concept as to what their biological gender "should" be. And gender is biological, not social.

commentonitall
commentonitall

@ozarkarts @commentonitall


You did not read my comment, " And if it DID ever happen those men would NOT be transgender either, so don't use that argument to justify discrimination against transgender people."  That is exactly the problem, how do you identify a true transgender?  Also, how am I discriminating by asking a logical question about a true concern for women?  I stated everyone deserves equal treatment, but you had a knee jerk reaction and instead of addressing legitimate concerns for the safety of women you try and bash me and say I am discriminating when I am not.  In fact you do not appear to know what the definition of discrimination because nowhere in my comment is it exhibited or alluded to.  In fact it seems you are discriminating against people who ask logical questions about legitimate concerns on safety of others.  Just because you don't agree with a valid point does not mean you can play the "discrimination card" and ignore it like a child and claim that would never happen and call names.  Take a look around, the world is a scary place and people will do anything to exploit something if they can, it's human nature.  Next time read and comprehend moron.



KiraMoore
KiraMoore

@pendragon05 @ozarkarts Your confusing "sex" and "gender". Sex is biological, gender is social. But that's okay, your forgiven, lost of "smart" people get the two confused all the time. 

Maybe doing some research on the matter would help. There are lots of places you could start, like by doing an internet search... you know, because the internet is for more than just watching porn...

ZoeEllenBrain
ZoeEllenBrain

@commentonitall@ozarkarts"how do you identify a true transgender?"

A good question.
Let's try a simple experiment.
You dress in the clothes of the opposite sex 24/7 for 4 weeks. Not the 1-2 years required for a formal diagnosis, just 28 days.


I won't ask you to take cross-sexed hormones, or do any other body-modification - not even get your ears pierced. Just change your clothes. 

See what happens. See the effect on your employment, your social life, your friends and family. Feel free to give the excuse that you're doing this to determine an answer to a good question.

If it's no big deal, then you've proved that indeed, anyone can just "pretend" to be transgender.

If on the other hand, this makes something as simple as going into a supermarket, a church, a bar, or even going into work something of an ordeal - if it makes you feel intensely uncomfortable just walking down the street - then you might have your answer.

My bet is that you wouldn't last 4 days, let alone 4 weeks, and as for 12 months? fergeddit.


ozarkarts
ozarkarts

@commentonitall @ozarkarts 

First of all, I'm not trying to "bash you" - and I certainly didn't lower myself by resorting to name calling like you did. You don't "decide to be transgender" - you are born that way.  You basically said that men might "pretend" to be transgender in order to get into a women's bathroom to rape women -- and I pointed out that has not happened.  You are using a fear tactic to try to make your point - and your point is NOT valid.  Transsexxual people have been using the 'correct' bathrooms for YEARS so this is NOT something that is suddenly "new".  Again, I don't think there has EVER been a case where a man (who is not transgender) has dressed up in order to get into a women's restroom to rape someone!  Most men who even tried something like that would stand out like sore thumbs and be quickly arrested.  Transsexual women certainly DON'T want men in the women's rest room anymore than any other woman does!  Your argument basically says "Well, if we start letting transgender people used the women's restroom rapists will soon follow" - that is nothing but an ignorant, BOGUS fear tactic designed to make the point that transgender women should NOT be allowed to use the women's restroom.  Your "valid point" is nothing but BS.