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Urgency of Now: Standing with Transgender Students

Urgency of Now: Standing with Transgender Students

Transgender pride flag with words "protect trans students"

“I am just a human. I am just a boy,” he said. “Please consider my rights when you make your decision.” These are the words of Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student whose quest to use the restroom that aligns with his gender identity took him all the way to the Supreme Court.

While the LGBTQ community has experienced a broad expansion of rights and protections over the past several years, the transgender community has long been uniquely vulnerable despite this important progress. This has been further exacerbated by recent setbacks. On February 10, 2017, the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. government’s objections to a 2016 injunction that blocked implementation of the Obama administration’s transgender inclusion guidance for public schools. After the guidelines were issued under the Obama administration, 12 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sued the federal government and won an injunction on the implementation of the guidelines. The Justice Department under President Obama appealed the injunction. Before arguments were heard in the case, the Justice Department under President Trump withdrew U.S. government’s defense of the guidelines.

Then, on February 22, 2017, the Departments of Justice and Education rescinded the guidelines altogether, effectively revoking the protections, which could have been implemented if the government had continued its case, and won. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court remanded Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. to the Fourth Circuit for review in light of the decision to rescind the guidelines. These developments do not necessarily change the situation for transgender students in public schools, but they do, however, indicate a concerning and drastic shift in how the new administration will approach transgender rights and LGBTQ equality more broadly.

While federal guidance on inclusion and protection for transgender and gender non-conforming students has been withdrawn, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1973, which bans sex discrimination in schools, has been interpreted by two federal courts and the Justice and Education Departments under the Obama administration to prohibit discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming students.

A national survey from the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 82% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. 93% of the students who participated in the survey attended public schools. Transgender students reported significantly higher levels of bullying, harassment and physical assault than their non-transgender peers. These experiences translated to negative effects on their education: because of gender-based harassment, transgender students were more likely to have lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education. The survey also found that many transgender students lacked access to other supportive resources, such as Gay Straight-Alliance clubs, inclusive curricula and comprehensive anti-harassment policies in their schools.

We are taught that each person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image. Our 2015 Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People elaborates on this idea: “From this bedrock principle stems our commitment to defend any individual from the discrimination that arises from ignorance, fear, insensitivity, or hatred.” Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are our siblings, our parents, our congregants, our friends, our neighbors and our leaders. It is their right to have a safe and successful education.

As part of the RAC’s efforts to respond to the Urgency of Now, we are calling on Reform Jews to join us in a sacred covenant to create the world we want. We are deeply engaged in a campaign to stand with transgender and gender non-conforming students to demand that welcoming and inclusive policies are in place in our schools. In coalition with local LGBTQ organizations, we are engaging in advocacy at the school district level and are looking to leaders all over the country to drive this effort.

If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about the campaign, please fill out this form or contact Lizzie Stein. Join our group in the Tent to stay up to date on the campaign. 

Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. Lizzie also staffs the Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown.

Lizzie Stein

Published: 5/12/2017