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New Directives Sufficient for Transgender Students?

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently issued directives pertaining to the rights of the state’s transgender public school students, including the right to use bathrooms, or play on teams, that are appropriate to the gender with which they identify rather than the gender to which society assigns them.

The guidelines follow the passing of the state’s Transgender Equal Rights Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick last summer, and which makes discrimination in employment, housing, education, and lending illegal. The law also designates attacks targeting people for being transgender as hate crimes.

A provision of the law states that the state’s Department of Education will provide more specific guidance to schools on how to improve the experience of their transgender students. There “is a lot of misunderstanding about transgender students and some schools may not have the internal expertise to address all issues of concern as they arise,” the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s executive director Gunner Scott said in a statement. “Research shows that transgender and gender non-conforming students suffer higher rates of verbal harassment, physical harassment, and physical assault in school.”

While many advocates of LGBTQ equality are pleased with the state’s efforts on behalf of its transgender students, there is also concern that the law does not yet do enough.

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, who have been on the forefront of this fight for years, released their own “Best Practices for Serving Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students in Schools” to complement the guidance issued by state Department of Education.

Likewise, Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, hopes more will be done.

“The guidelines are wonderful for students identifying as transgender, transsexual, and who are transitioning,” Beemyn told the Advocate, “but are less effective for students who are gender non-conforming, who don’t identify as one gender extreme or the other.”

“Most trans students,” Beemyn said of the college- and high school-aged population that uses the services of the Stonewall Center, “identify as gender non-conforming.”

“It’s a great first step,” Beemyn said of the new directives, “but we need to do more, and continue to be forward-thinking.”•

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