All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Massachusetts School Directive on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth

On February 15th the Massachusetts Department of Education issued an 11 page directive on the proper ways to go about addressing having a transgender student. The directive was made in response to the 2011 antidiscrimination act that took effect in the summer of 2012 and questions from those who weren't sure how to handle children who don't confrom to society's gender standards.

The directive has come under fire recently because it instructs schools to allow students who are biologically male but identify as a girl to use the girl's locker rooms, bathrooms, etc. Fox's Bill O'Reilly addressed the directive in a segment on February 26th.


In the segment O'Reilly addresses the issue seemingly without actually knowing any of what the Directive states. O'Reilly states, "We don’t even want to get into the locker room situation here, okay? Because I know a lot of wise guys who would exploit this in a way that we’re not even going to talk about." It seems astounding to me that he would make this claim. If he had been bothered to look at the directive (which I will provide at the end of the post) he would have been able to see that it cannot be just any male who decides to be a girl for a day or anything of the sort.

The Directive clearly states, "Consistent with the statutory standard, a school should accept a student’s assertion of his or her gender identity when there is consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity.” Notice the part where it states there needs to be consistent and uniform assertions and evidence that the desire is sincere. The comment also irks me due to its implication that there are people who are transgender or gender nonconforming because they want exploit their sexual interests.

O'Reilly also raises the point of not informing the parents. On this point I may agree with O'Reilly to some extent. I agree with the idea that a parent may have some right to know what is going on in their child's life. However I also believe that a child has a right to not share their identity with their parents until ready.

The directive states, "Some transgender and gender nonconforming students are not openly so at home for reasons such as safety concerns or lack of acceptance. School personnel should speak with the student first before discussing a student’s gender nonconformity or transgender status with the student’s parent or guardian." If the child believes that they may be put in danger or may have negative consequences by coming out to their parents is it really correct to forcefully out them against their will? In such a case I feel inclined to side on the side of the child's right to safety and well-being rather than a parents right to being informed. There is certainly room for debate on this subject, but as far as I have seen of the directive no where does it explicitly state that a parent can be witheld information.

One of O'Reilly's guests, Fox New's Monica Crowley, raised a question about the appropriateness of allowing gender nonconforming youth to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with. She claims that those who are uncomfortable with such a thing should be respected and therefore the nonconforming student should not be allowed. However, why is it that because you are uncomfortable that I should not be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room? Would you respect that same wish if it were any other student? There aren't separate facilities for cis-gendered students who make other's uncomfortable.

Furthermore, the directive addresses this issue as well stating, "All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe, and adequate, so they can comfortably and fully engage in their school program and activities...Some students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sexsegregated restroom, locker room or changing facility. This discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student. School administrators and counseling staff should work with students to address the discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity, to create a school culture that respects and values all students." It continues on and encourages schools to have an appropriate number of gender neutral restrooms (appropriate to the schools size) and at least 1 gender neutral changing room.

The final thing that struck a nerve to me was when O'Reilly referred to being trans or gender nonconforming as a 'lifestyle'. This is hugely disrespectful and shows an large degree of ignorance. Just like when he and others claim there is a 'gay lifestyle'. Being trans or gender nonconforming is accepted by most of the professional medical and psychological community as something that is innate. It is no more a lifestyle choice than what race you are, what accent you have, and other such attributes that are not chosen. It is simply a fact of who someone is.

The Massachusetts Directive is extremely thorough in its addressing of many issues. You can read the full document here. If you wish to see a different report on the document - click here.

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