Transgender Student Access to Bathrooms in Texas Public Schools

Friends and Members of our extended Wichita Falls community, we are experiencing a challenge to justice that impacts some of our most vulnerable populations: transgender children.  While social policy and legislation in our country is under scrutiny, and while the government’s judiciary branch considers the legality of legislating respect as applied to gender identity, we must be diligent in expressing our expectations of public school administrators and educators for the health and well-being of our children.


 

Getting You Updated…

In May 2016, the US Dept. of Justice and US Dept. of Education released guidance for public schools regarding an established law referred to as Title IX.  Title IX has been part of the law governing our public schools since 1972, and states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  In May 2016, the phrase “on the basis of sex” received specific attention resulting in a new interpretation that included not only binary biological sex (male/female), but also gender identity (boy/girl/androgynous).

This top-down effort to include gender identity, a term that was not well-defined in 1972, resulted in backlash from people fearing for the safety of children and the authority of the government.  The backlash is now in the form of a civil lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of broadening the phrase in Title IX to include gender identity.

This month, February 2017, a new administration within the US Dept. of Education and US Dept. of Justice have withdrawn the guidance language pertaining to Title IX.


 

What this Means…

In truth, the guidance language to school administrators and educators was just that, guidance.  It opened the door to legal repercussion if a transgender student experienced exclusion from their appropriate bathroom facilities.  By “appropriate” I mean that the person both identified in congruence with the bathroom designation as “Men” and “Women” and/or “Boys” and “Girls,” and felt safest entering such bathroom facilities.  The guidance did nothing – I repeat, NOTHING – to stop such exclusion or abuse from happening in the first place. Also, rescinding of the guidance also did nothing to change the law already established by Title IX.   That’s the way of law…always retroactive, until it becomes socially normative.

This reality, however, doesn’t mean that the guidance was lacking importance.  All laws go through a variety of interpretations in their “lifetime.”  Still, a majority of transgender students experience severe abuse, bullying, and mistreatment every day.  The guidance was an eye-opener to those of us who do not share the worldview of a transgender person who must use public bathroom facilities.  The guidance required that a dialogue happen; a dialogue that is moving through our judicial system now.


 

What Do We Do as the Church/Parents/Concerned Members of the Community…

Title IX was established first to protect women from abuses, mistreatments, and unequal access to any and all of public education.  In 1972, this was necessary, as MUCH of our educational system still focused on the young men who would enter the workforce, while relegating women to lesser education and opportunity for careers outside the home.  Title IX has since been part of the effort to protect women from rape, sexual harassment, and employment insecurity.  Equal protections for all persons leads to equal discipline for infractions…so no one gets away with poor or abusive behavior.

Title IX came into being because our society recognized in itself a habit of malicious, cruel, discriminating, and dismissive behavior against women.  THAT KIND OF BEHAVIOR CONTINUES UNCHECKED AGAINST TRANSGENDER STUDENTS IN OUR SCHOOLS.  Children are made to be singled out to use unisex facilities, or are outright excluded from public facilities, even if they have lived their entire lives in a gender identity that may be contrary to their biology.

That reality for our transgender children cannot be something we leave to the highest levels of government to address.  These abuses are happening in OUR schools, in OUR communities, with OUR children.  Therefore, it’s OUR responsibility to address it.

As people of faith who believe that every person is cherished by God, even in the midst of diversity that we may or may not understand, we have a responsibility to encourage administrators and educators to be respectful of children’s experience.  As parents, we must communicate our expectation that every child’s experience is important and deserves kindness and respect.  As concerned community members, we must offer our support and affirmation of respectful treatment of our next generation of community leaders.

NOW is the time to get our statements of support and encouragement for the inclusion of transgender students’ experiences on public school campuses with respect for their stated and exemplified gender identity to our Independent School Districts!  NOW is the time to flood their inboxes, mailboxes, and phone lines.  NOW is the time to address the expectation that bullying will be stopped, that abuses will not be tolerated, and that children have the right to be who they are.


 

Get Involved…

Research (not required, but it helps!)

  • Read the statement released by Betsy Devos, US Secretary of Education (Read Here >>)
  • Read the letter rescinding the May 2016 guidance recommendations (Download Here >>)
  • Read the May 2016 guidance (Read Here >>)

Make Your Voice Heard

  • PRINT and Fill in this Letter, and send it to:
    • Via “snail” Mail:
      • Every Principal and Assistant Principal in your district (ALL school levels, and any Magnet schools)
      • All members of your local School Board
      • All administrators of your local ISD
    • Via Email
      • This is worthy of sending, but mailed hard-copy letters are best.  If you email any of your ISD leadership, please also send the hard-copy!
  • Call your local ISD administration and your school board members using this script.
  • Schedule appointments with school board members, as they are available, to discuss this information with them.
  • Petition the school board to adopt an inclusive statement of anti-discrimination for transgender students. ISD Anti-Discrimination Statement Sample.
    • Get at least 500 signatures
    • Present the petition and statement sample to them at a regularly scheduled school board meeting.

Social Media

DO NOT use this medium for complaining!  Social media can be used for sharing this article, the documents, research, etc.  Contact your friends and encourage them to join your efforts.  (You may even just ask their permission to sign the letter on their behalf and send it yourself!)


 

Let’s do something proactive and productive for the change we wish to see.  Our children deserve the best treatment and safety we can provide, and they deserve the opportunity to live peacefully together.  It’s what Jesus would do!

Drafted by Rev. Mel Martinez, M.Div.

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