January 10, 2017
Recently, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not transgender people should be allowed to use the public restrooms of their choice. Although there are many well-known laws throughout the country that both hurt and protect transgender rights concerning public facilities, many school systems do not have specific guidelines in place for restroom use by transgender students.
Howard County is one of these school systems. The Howard County Public School System says that it is all about the safety and privacy of individuals. As it claims to be committed to the safety of transgender individuals, there should be one widespread bathroom policy that backs this up. The Baltimore City Public School System claims to be committed to protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students by making sure they are safe. They are considering redesigning gendered facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms. University of Maryland and UMBC both provide gender neutral bathrooms. These are typically single-user restrooms that anyone of any gender can use, and are helpful for transgender people, especially those who are gender nonconforming. Howard County should follow in their footsteps and implement guidelines and renovations that show their support for the transgender community.
Currently, at Atholton High School, there is not one specific policy that all transgender students follow concerning bathroom use. Many teachers are supportive and helpful when it comes to using names and pronouns, and treat transgender students with respect. Still, a lot of them don’t know or understand the struggle that comes with stepping into a public bathroom as a transgender person. Many transgender people have been harassed and attacked when using public bathrooms of their preferred gender, even when laws are in place that protect their right to use said bathroom. At Atholton, students have been told varying things over the past year when it comes to rules, including being told to use the bathroom of their choice, being told that the student will need a note from a parent or guardian stating their permission to use the bathroom of their choice, or being told that single-stall teacher bathrooms will remain unlocked for use throughout the day as “gender neutral restrooms.” However, not all teachers and students are aware of these unofficial guidelines. Atholton needs to come up with one encompassing policy for bathroom usage by transgender students, and must communicate this policy to the entire school so that students know where to go and so that teachers can help to keep students safe.
It is essential that the safety of transgender youth at Atholton is respected at all times so that students can feel welcome at their own school.
The US Department of Education released a set of guidelines on May 13th, 2016 concerning the rights of transgender students across the country. These guidelines were mainly released in order to help school officials navigate and deal with these rising issues in an effective way. These guidelines state that schools have a responsibility to promote the safety, comfort, and wellbeing of transgender students by using each student’s preferred name and pronouns, and making sure students do not target and harass their transgender peers. Schools should allow transgender students access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their preferred gender identity. If a transgender or gender nonconforming student does not identify as strictly male or female, they should be allowed to use whichever bathroom they feel aligns most with their gender identity. The guidelines also explain that schools should provide a single-stall, gender-neutral bathroom available for use by any student. There are many other specific guidelines that concern topics such as single-sex classes and schools, sororities and fraternities, or any situations that may bring up issues.
Overall, this mandate works to protect transgender children all over the United States. However, many people think differently. Some believe these policies will hurt young girls by allowing “men who identify as women” into women’s restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities. A Virginia school board chose to resist the Department of Education’s policy by passing an ordinance which allows transgender students to request a private, single-user facility, but does not allow them to use any facilities that do not correspond with their assigned gender at birth. These kinds of rules make it more difficult for transgender students to come out, because many may be afraid that their school will be unsupportive.
Howard County and Atholton need to prove to the transgender community that it is a safe space for students to be whoever they want to be. Not only does Howard County need to be supportive, it needs to back up its words of support with clear rules that work to protect transgender students. Students should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel most comfortable in, and should not live in fear of being harassed. Our school system must create a specific bathroom policy, and needs to educate every student about LGBT issues in the community so that transgender students can be as safe as possible.