Trans students’ rights are at risk, but they aren’t alone.
On Feb. 22, the Trump administration formally rescinded Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender students from discrimination — but hope for trans students remains.
The Obama administration’s now-rescinded letter was merely guidance to school districts as to whether existing law provides anti-discrimination protection on the basis of students’ gender identity, something that’s likely to be determined this year when the Supreme Court hears 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm’s case.
What makes the Trump administration’s action harmful is not a matter of whether this changes the rights of trans students (it doesn’t or, at least, it shouldn’t). It’s harmful because it signals to those who want to deny those rights that the administration won’t intervene on behalf of trans students.
In response, protests popped up in New York, Washington, and San Francisco to show support for trans students.
Grimm addressed the crowd at a demonstration near the White House, while others made their voices heard outside New York’s LGBT landmark Stonewall Inn and San Francisco City Hall. Trans youth, trans adults, and their allies set out with a simple message: Trans rights are human rights.
A recent estimate from UCLA’s Williams Institute shows that around 150,000 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 identify as transgender — roughly 0.7% of the population.
What the Obama White House tried to do with its guidance letter is urge states and school districts to ensure that none of those 150,000 teens face discrimination for no reason other than who they are. Instead of having to deal with this on a case-by-case basis for every school district — which, as Grimm’s upcoming Supreme Court case demonstrates, leads to confusion and lawsuits — the federal government tried to clarify that. Trump’s move makes those waters as murky as they were before, if not more so.
Some have argued that allowing trans students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity will put other students at risk. This has been thoroughly debunked.
A common refrain from those who oppose trans rights is a fear that cisgender (non-trans) boys will simply “pretend” to be trans in order to infiltrate girls’ locker rooms or to dominate girls’ sports.
“I wish that somebody would have told me in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E.,” former presidential candidate and opponent of transgender rights Mike Huckabee said in a 2015 speech at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. “I’m pretty sure I would have found my feminine side, and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.'”
This simply does not happen.
In 2015, Media Matters spoke with officials in 17 school districts with transgender protections, representing more than 600,000 schools. The total number of problems? Zero.
15 states and the District of Columbia have clear gender identity and sexual orientation protections that apply to schools. The number of times people have pretended to be trans so they can recreate the plot of Porky’s and Ladybugs? Zero.
Trans kids just want to exist in a world free from bullying, free from discrimination. That’s all.
If there’s one thing to take away from the protests that followed Trump’s action, it’s this: Trans students are loved and they aren’t alone in this world.
Want to help out? Here’s a helpful list of things you can do.