NYCLU Taking Action to Change How Transgender Students are Treated in Schools

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"Instead of supporting children, schools are sometimes magnifying the problem," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman told reporters Wednesday, while discussing the harassment transgender students have faced in New York schools.

She said the New York Department of Education has been "devastatingly silent," when it comes to that harassment, saying, "75 percent of transgender students have reported being harassed in the last year. Two out of three report feeling unsafe, many have avoided going to school altogether."

The discussion was part of the NYCLU's report, Dignity For All? Discrimination Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York State, released Wednesday, revealing the discrimination and harassment faced by transgender and gender nonconforming youth in New York public schools.

Five years ago, The Dignity for All Students Act was passed, designed to protect all public school students from bullying and harassment. It "explicitly prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived gender, gender identity and gender discrimination," but there have been many complications when it comes to how educators are enforcing the act for transgender students. The Dignity for All? report is based on stories of harassment trans students have faced, with parents and trans youth giving the media a glimpse of those stories during the discussion. All of them were heartbreaking.

A mother named Marisa, who is mom to a 6-year-old transgender girl named Jay in New York City, said her daughter had been beaten and bullied relentlessly in school, and administrators haven't done anything about it. "Since kindergarten, my daughter has been harassed," she said.

"My daughter was kicked, stepped on, her hair was pulled, all while they yelled she was a boy," she continued. Marisa was worried about how the bullying would impact her daughter's self esteem in the future, and what else she didn't know about the torment she's faced. "The bullying she's experiencing should be taken seriously by the school...I don't know how bad it has to get for the school to do something about it."

Meanwhile, all of the transgender kids that spoke, like 18-year-old Locke, just wanted to be respected for who they are. Locke doesn't want to be called by his biological name at school or made to use women's bathrooms. He wants to be fully recognized as the person he is with no questions behind it.

Sixth grader Casey, 11, wants the same. "I can't use the bathroom with other girls," she said. "It makes me feel like I'm a freak and I don't belong...I'm speaking out and standing up for myself. I would like other transgender students to know that they are not alone."
And why shouldn't they be allowed to have that? If there is an act that exists called 'Dignity for All' designed to protect all students from bullying and harassment, every student should receive that protection, and that included trans students.

To help change what trans students are going through, the NYCLU's report includes a model policy for school districts to follow to make sure that all students are respected and nurtured regardless of their gender identity or expression.

In it, they recommended the State Education Department make it the responsibility of all schools to respect the preferred names and gender pronouns of students, and provide all students with access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender, among other things.

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