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

56 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!