Since the Trump administration rolled back life-saving federal guidance that supports trans students, many people have been scared, angry, and worried about what this means for them or for people in their lives. But there are still protections still in place—and a lot you can do to make your school better for trans students.
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Here's what you need to know
Transgender students are protected under Title IX, the federal law that makes sex discrimination in schools illegal, and by the U.S. Constitution. In 2016, the Obama administration released a guidance document that explains that this means schools need to treat trans students according to their gender identity. But in a callous attack on trans students, the Trump administration overturned the guidance days after it took office. This doesn't change the Title IX law itself or the many federal court decisions that say Title IX protects trans students. But it does take away a powerful tool that trans students and their families had to help them advocate for themselves, and it sends schools the message that discriminating against trans students is okay. Take a look at NCTE's FAQ to learn more about what this means for you.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court was considering the case of a young transgender man named Gavin Grimm and his right to use the boys' restroom at school. The Supreme Court decided not to make a decision about the case at this point, but instead it asked the appeals court to review Gavin's case again now that the guidance has been withdrawn. This means that Gavin's case is continuing to move forward, as are the cases of many other trans students.
Right now, trans students can still enforce their rights under Title IX and the Constitution with a lawyer's help. And there are also other things they can do, such as filing complaints with state agencies, since many of them have helpful policies or rules. Learn more about how to do that by taking a look at NCTE’s Know Your Rights guide.
Here are some tips for making a difference at your school
Even with all the uncertainty at the federal level, any school can decide that it wants to have a policy that supports transgender students. Here are some tips on how to improve your school’s policies.
1. Come up with a game plan. Think about what would work best at your school.
- Who can help? A supportive teacher or counselor, or other students or parents? Creating a team is almost always easier than going it alone.
- After you have your team, what is your strategy? Do you want to go quietly to the school principal? Go to the school board? Do you need to go loud with a community campaign?
2. Meet frequently and adjust your strategy. Should you try a different approach? Should you contact the media?
3. Use the resources on this page. Collected below are resources from the government, as well as resources from NCTE and other non-profits.
Make a difference in your school, your state, and nationwide
- Bring this sample letter to your school district. This letter explains why schools have a legal and moral responsibility to support transgender students. Make sure you change the highlighted parts, and if you’d like, you can add your own story or customize the letter.
- Tell your governor to support transgender students in your state. Urge your governor to push for new rules or policies protecting transgender students from discrimination or strengthen existing ones.<
- Tell the Trump administration why its attack on transgender students was wrong and harmful. Share your story with the President, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and tell them how taking away the guidance protecting transgender students has affected you or a transgender student in your life.
Great resources to take to your school officials:
Resources by NCTE and Partner Organizations
- NCTE's FAQ explaining what the Trump administration's decision to overturn the Title IX guidance means
- NCTE and GLSEN’s Model District Policy, which includes policies that school districts can adopt to support trans students
- NCTE’s fact sheet explaining the guidance that the Department of Education put out under President Obama. (While this guidance is no longer in effect, you can show still use it to show your schools what supportive policies look like.)
- Schools in Transition, a practical guide to help school officials address issues affecting trans students
- This FAQ on trans students and restrooms, which addresses common questions school officials may have about restroom access. It is endorsed and supported by the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
- Lambda Legal's Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommend Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care, a comprehensive analysis of the troubling lack of explicit laws and policies in most states to protect transgender, gender-expansive and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth systems (“out-of-home care systems”).
Key Resources from U.S. Department of Education
- Federal guidance on respecting trans students. This letter, which went out to schools around the country, says that trans students should be treated according to their gender identity, including when it comes to names and pronouns, dress codes, and restrooms. While the Departments of Justice and Education have now withdrawn the guidance document, you can still give it to your school to show them examples of what supportive policies look like.
- Examples of supportive policies from the Department of Education. These examples show different approaches schools across the country have taken across a range of issues, and it has not been rolled back.
- Federal guidance on bullying and harassment, including gender-based and anti-transgender bullying. This guidance from the Department of Education has not been rolled back.
Trans students are also protected by state laws and policies in many states. If you face discrimination in one of these states, you may be able to file a complaint with a state agency. Some of these state policies aren’t perfect and might protect you against some forms of discrimination but not others. Click on your state to see its rules or policies for trans students:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
If it gets tough, reach out for support:
Contact NCTE or an LGBT organization in your area.
Learn more about what your school is required to do at our Know Your Rights page, Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students: Your Rights at School.
If your school discriminates against trans students, reach out to these LGBT legal groups for help.
Who's with trans students?
Check out the organizations and prominent individuals who have made strong statements supporting trans students. You can use them in your advocacy with your school. And take a look at the friend-of-the-court briefs filed with the Supreme Court in Gavin Grimm's case here to find statements by leading experts on education, children's health, and many others explaining why supporting trans students is so important.
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being. No child deserves to feel this way, especially within the walls of their own school."
American College of Physicians and 17 other major medical organizations: "Access to single-sex facilities that correspond to one’s gender identity is a critical aspect of social transition and, thus, successful treatment of gender dysphoria. By contrast, excluding transgender individuals from facilities consistent with their gender identity undermines their treatment, exacerbating the condition; exposes them to stigma and discrimination as well as potential harassment and abuse; harms their physical health by causing them to avoid restroom use; and impairs their social and emotional development, contributing to poorer health outcomes throughout life."
- American Federation of Teachers: “America is at its best when we are inclusive. Recognizing that a person’s gender identity should be respected is a move every American should be proud of.”
- American Psychological Association and National Association of School Psychologists: “[The APA and NASP] recommend that administrators create safer environments for gender diverse, transgender, and intersex/DSD students, allowing all students, staff, and teachers to have access to the sex-segregated facilities, activities, and programs that are consistent with their gender identity, including, but not limited to, bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and classroom activities, and avoiding the use of gender segregation in school uniforms, school dances, and extracurricular activities, and providing gender neutral bathroom options for individuals who would prefer to use them.”
- American School Counselor Association: “All students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, religion, age, economic class, gender or sexual identity, deserve a safe and supportive school climate that fosters academic achievement and college and career readiness. Students cannot perform to their highest levels when the school environment creates barriers to learning, instead of removing barriers.”
- Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington State, and the District of Columbia: "Policies that allow employees, students, and members of the public to use facilities consistent with their gender identity promote safe and inclusive communities, workplaces, and schools, a benefit that accrues to all."
- National Association of Elementary School Principals: “It is critically important to maintain a positive school culture where all students feel included and respected, regardless of their gender identity or gender expression.”
- National Association of Secondary School Principals: “The principal’s most important role is to create a climate and culture in which each student feels valued – so we can build we can build each student’s human potential.”
- National Education Association: “Transgender students have the right to equal educational opportunities, and educational institutions must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all respects.”
- National Organization for Women: “We know that achieving real equality for all women includes promoting the fundamental rights of transgender people, and the work of our chapter leaders and activists around the country includes working with our allies to ensure the safety and dignity of all transgender students.”
- National Parent-Teacher Association: “Educators can and do provide transgender students the inclusive and supportive environment they need—including equal access to restrooms and other essential facilities—to thrive in school and beyond.... These policies have transformed the educational experience of transgender students while—critically—avoiding any disruption or harm to the educational experience of other students."
- Nineteen Leading Education Organizations: "We are working to ensure that all students can enjoy a safe and affirming learning environment; have the support of educators, administrators, family members and peers; are affirmed in their gender identity and expression; and are protected by nondiscrimination policies that promote equity and respect for all members of the community."
- Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch: “Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.”
- Former U.S. President Barack Obama: “We should deal with this issue the same way we’d want it dealt with if it was our child. And that is to try to create an environment of some dignity and kindness for these kids.”
- Numerous school officials around the country: "We have not experienced problems with policies allowing transgender students to access bathrooms or locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity. Nor have we experienced transgender students or any other students attempting to be dishonest or break the rules. To the contrary, our transgender students simply want to be safe while using school facilities."
More Resources from the Department of Education
Most people won’t need to use these additional resources from the Department of Education, but here they are just in case they are helpful for your work at your school. Some of these resources could be pulled from the Department of Education's website in the future, but they are still good examples of what discrimination against transgender students includes and how to address it.
- This guide for Title IX Coordinators (each school district should have a person on staff that is their Title IX Coordinator)
- This Q&A about single-sex classes and activities
- This Q&A on Title IX and sexual violence
- Case resolutions: The Department of Education has already worked with a lot of schools to improve their policies and respond to complaints by trans students. For each of these cases, there is a findings letter (which explains what happened in that case) and a settlement (which explains what the school had to do to comply). This includes schools in Illinois (Findings/Settlement), South Carolina (Findings/Settlement), North Carolina (Findings/Settlement), New York (Findings/Settlement), and California (Findings/Settlement; Findings/Settlement).
Share your story
Share your story of being a trans student or the story of a trans student in your life with NCTE. NCTE can use these stories to help convince policymakers to change policies. In some cases, we might also be able to work with you to get your story into the media.