Area schools reassure transgender students

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 02, 2017

A decision by President Donald Trump to halt the federal enforcement of protections for transgender youth under Title IX will have no impact on area students, though the distress and fear it is causing is prompting schools and colleges to reaffirm their commitment to being inclusive.

Amherst Acting Superintendent Michael Morris said Thursday that Amherst bylaws, state law and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines ensure that actions at the federal level will not impact Massachusetts students.

“Our students will not see a change in our practices in the district based on anything that happened in Washington, D.C. this week,” Morris said at the Amherst School Committee meeting Thursday.

In a statement he issued to the community, Morris noted that students will continue to be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

“Our schools will remain welcoming and inclusive places for all students,” Morris wrote.

The change in federal law came Wednesday when both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education argued that the guidelines put in place by the Obama administration created legal confusion and was inadequately vetted. The department also noted that the issues surrounding transgender students are best handled at the state and local levels.

The University of Massachusetts put out a statement that it will support transgendered students.

“Our nondiscrimination policy includes ‘gender identity and expression,’ and the university will continue to seek to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including trans students. We provide access to facilities and respect students’ pronouns and names consistent with their gender identity, even if their education records or identification documents indicate a different sex.”

At Amherst College, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin issued a statement “to express dismay” at President Trump’s action to end President Obama’s mandate that transgender students be treated in ways consistent with their gender identity.

“I condemn the rescinding of guidance that helped provide protection for some of our most vulnerable youth,” Martin wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a press conference Thursday that the matter is not a states rights issue, but rather about targeting an already vulnerable population and seemingly making discrimination acceptable.

“The message here from Massachusetts to our president and to the attorney general is this: no matter what you say, transgendered young people, transgendered students, are protected in our schools. Transgendered people are protected in our housing, in our workplaces and in our places of public accommodation,” Healey said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who signed legislation protecting accommodations from transgendered individuals last summer, said in a press conference Thursday that he was disappointed the president is rolling back the law.

Martin wrote that the action will affect her students.

“Transgender youth are among the most vulnerable in our schools and in society at large; they are subject to bullying, harassment, and violence. The psychological toll can be devastating when young people face ridicule, hate, and institutional forms of discrimination simply for being who they are,” Martin wrote.

Martin pointed to organizations that will provide legal help to transgender students who face discrimination, including Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.