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Will U.S. DoE protect trans youth, young adults from discrimination?
From a press release
2017-02-09

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Yesterday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Her confirmation places in jeopardy Guidance that protects over 350,000 transgender youth and young adults in the United States from discrimination in education. This fact sheet describes what's at stake and the importance of the Guidance to transgender school age youth.

Secretary DeVos & The Guidance

During her confirmation process, Secretary DeVos, in response to a question about how she would address bullying of LGBTQ students, stated that "[e]very child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, achieve and thrive and are not discriminated against."

Secretary DeVos declined, however, to state whether the Department of Education, under her leadership, will continue to require schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identities. In May 2016, under the Obama administration, the Departments of Education and Justice jointly released Guidance to school administrators about the rights of transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ( "Title IX" ). Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. The Guidance confirms that discrimination against transgender students on the basis of gender identity violates Title IX, consistent with a growing body of case law from federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on this issue on March 28, 2017 in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.

Transgender Students in the United States

In the United States, there are approximately 150,000 transgender youth ( age 13-17 ) and 206,000 young adults ( 18 to 24 ).

Widespread Bullying & Harassment Impacts Access to Education

The Guidance aims to protect these students from school-based bullying, harassment, and discrimination that impairs their access to equal education. Research demonstrates the high prevalence of bullying and harassment of transgender students.

According to one study, 82 percent of transgender students reported hearing negative comments based on gender presentation from students sometimes or often, and 31 percent reported sometimes or often hearing negative comments by school personnel.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey ( USTS ) — the largest survey of transgender people to date — 77 percent of respondents who were "out" or perceived as transgender in grades K-12 had negative experiences at school from being transgender, such as being verbally harassed or physically assaulted.

One USTS respondent recounted: "I was constantly bullied and physically assaulted by my classmates. Teachers would often see it happen and make no move to intervene. The harassment continued, and eventually I had to change high schools three times, each time just as bad as the last, until I finally gave up on public schools."

Another USTS respondent described abuse so persistent — including being pelted with spit-balls, paper airplanes of hate mail, and soda cans — that the respondent avoided the school bus and restrooms from fear for personal safety.

One in six USTS respondents who were out as transgender in grades K-12 left school entirely because of harassment.

Nearly a quarter ( 24 percent ) of USTS respondents who had attended college or vocational school reported verbal and physical harassment there, and, among them, 16 percent left college or vocational schooling because the harassment was so bad.

Restrooms: Denial of Access and a Location for Harassment

With respect to restroom access specifically, transgender people report being denied access, harassed, or assaulted while trying the access restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Sixty percent of transgender students between the ages of 13 and 21 who responded to the 2015 National School Climate Survey had been required to use a bathroom or locker room of their legal sex.

In a Washington, DC survey, 70 percent of transgender respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted while trying to access or using public restrooms.

Fifty-four percent of respondents reported having some sort of physical problem from trying to avoid using public bathrooms, all of whom reported that they "held it" to avoid public restrooms. Health problems included dehydration, urinary tract infections, kidney infection, and other kidney-related problems.

The Life Long Impacts of Harassment & Discrimination in Education

Educational attainment is a significant determinant of economic status and health across the life course. But discrimination, harassment, and victimization impairs many transgender students' access to education, and is associated with lower educational attainment, reduced economic prospects, increased risk of homelessness, and other negative outcomes.

Stigma and mistreatment results in transgender individuals experiencing disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychological distress.

Research shows high rates of suicide attempts among transgender youth are related to experiences of discrimination, harassment, or assault/sexual violence.

Fully 82 percent of transgender people responding to the USTS seriously considered killing themselves at some point in their lives; nearly half ( 48 percent ) in the year previous. Among respondents who had attempted suicide, more than a third ( 34 percent ) made their first attempt at age 13 or younger; three-quarters did so before age 18.

Research shows high rates of suicide attempts among transgender youth are related to experiences of discrimination, harassment, or assault/sexual violence.

With respect to restroom access specifically, transgender students who are prohibited from using, or experience problems accessing, restrooms consistent with their gender identity report greater absenteeism, poorer school performance, withdrawing from public spaces and events, physical and mental health impacts ( such as bladder infections, discomfort, and anxiety ), having to change schools, or dropping out.

Supportive Environments Work

Despite these findings, research shows that creating a supportive environment that treats transgender people consistent with their gender identity can ameliorate these negative outcomes. Transgender people who are accepted and supported at home and in their community report lower rates of negative outcomes, including lower rates of mental distress, homelessness, and suicide.

The Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.


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