RI school superintendents called on to ‘forcefully and publicly reaffirm’ transgender student rights

In the wake of the Donald Trump Administration’s repeal of federal guidance that clarified the protections available to transgender students under federal law, fifteen organizations supporting the rights of LGBTQ students have sent a letter to all school district superintendents in the state asking them to “forcefully and publicly reaffirm” their school district’s commitment “to providing a safe, protective and non-discriminatory space” for those students. Saying that the repeal action sent a “troubling message” to transgender youth, the groups called it crucial for superintendents to “urgently counter” it.

“As a matter of basic educational policy, all students – including those who are transgender – deserve a fair chance to succeed in school and prepare for their future,” says the letter, which can be read in its entirety here, “Protecting transgender students helps ensure that they have the same opportunities as their classmates to fully participate in school. Indeed, anything less than equality can have can have far-reaching and long-lasting damaging effects on transgender youth… Discriminating against them in the school setting – where promoting tolerance, fairness and equality must be a crucial pedagogical goal – is simply intolerable…”

Some school districts – including Providence, East Greenwich, Cumberland and South Kingstown – have already done so, as has the RI Department of Education. But many have not, and the letter called on those districts that do not yet have a formal policy protecting transgender students to “adopt one expeditiously.”

“This is why it is so important for schools to clearly and quickly counter the harmful message of the Trump Administration,” said Chris Lauth, Executive Director of Youth Pride Inc. “We need to be pro-active in affirming a safe and supportive learning environment for our transgender students and school districts need an inclusive policy to clearly cite just how that full inclusion will look within their schools.”

The signatories to the letter were: Youth Pride Inc, the RI Commission for Human Rights, AIDS Project RI, ACLU of Rhode Island, TGI Network, RI Pride, Family Service of RI, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, SAGE-RI, RI Commission on Prejudice and Bias, RI Working Families, Thundermist Health Center, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Sojourner House, and the Racial Justice Coalition.

The letter also states,

“Transgender students are protected by the Constitution and Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex, including when using restrooms and other school facilities. The federal laws that are used to protect transgender students have not changed, and school districts across the country must still comply with them.

“Rhode Island also has comprehensive state law protections on the basis of gender identity or expression… [T]he Rhode Island Department of Education has… reaffirmed its detailed ‘Guidance for Rhode Island Schools on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students,’ advising school districts on how best to support transgender students under Rhode Island law, including allowing transgender students to access the restroom that matches their gender identity.

“For all these reasons, we urge you to forcefully and publicly reaffirm your school district’s commitment to providing a safe, protective and non-discriminatory space for your transgender students. In light of the troubling message that the revocation of the Title IX guidance has sent transgender youth, your role in urgently countering it is crucial.”

As a supplement to the letter, the ACLU of Rhode Island has filed an open records request with each school district to obtain a copy of their policies addressing the rights and protections afforded transgender students.

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