HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Youth Congress condemns the actions of the US Departments of Education and Justice in rescinding their transgender student guidance. The May 2016 “Dear Colleague” was a crucial letter that provided a national declaration of inclusion and respect for vulnerable students.
“As a direct attack against transgender students, the withdrawal of this urgently needed guidance is both horrifying and outrageous to people of conscience,” said Pennsylvania Youth Congress Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman. “This guidance was a specific commitment from our federal government that they would ensure transgender students receive full support and integration into our schools. The Departments of Education and Justice have rejected basic dignity and respect.”
Since 2011, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress has worked with many school districts throughout the commonwealth to support transgender students. Last year the organization launched the Dignity for All project, an online resource for transgender student policy in Pennsylvania. Nearly 20 school districts in the state have adopted transgender student affirming regulations or policies, which are posted on the Dignity for All website. These local developments are from rural regions such as Fairfield Area in Adams County and larger urban areas including Pittsburgh and Lancaster. This online project also provides the first publicly available model policy for transgender student support in Pennsylvania.
In a forthcoming report on all 500 school districts in the state, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress has found that as of January 2017, only 6% of Pennsylvania public school districts have policies that protect transgender students from discrimination. Eight districts updated their student non-discrimination policy to include gender identity since the federal guidance was issued last May. Furthermore, only 4% of Pennsylvania school districts prohibit harassment on the basis of gender identity or expression. There is no state law or regulation that explicitly prohibits discrimination or harassment against transgender students.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress recognizes that US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued her own statement that was intended to ease the devastating impact of this action. She specifically cited the “moral responsibility” to protect “all students, including LGBTQ students, not only [as] a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.” However, in rescinding this guidance, Goodman added that “no words can diminish the action of withdrawing an institutional commitment to standing up for transgender students. This very well may embolden some districts to make openly discriminatory decisions against trans students. We will not stand for this hostility.”
The fact remains that transgender students exist and deserve full access to a high-quality education just like every child in America. Although the guidance may be rescinded, the legal platform and case law remain that transgender students are protected under the US Constitution and Title IX. The historic G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board case, which involves 17 year-old high school student Gavin Grimm suing his Virginia school district, will be heard by the Supreme Court in March 2017.
Many Pennsylvania school districts have been making strides toward inclusion and respect for transgender students on a case-by-case basis for over a decade. These decisions have been happening at the district level before the guidance, and will continue following it being rescinded. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress will press on in this work, as more educators and administrators are learning that their role in supporting all students must include transgender students as well.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress reminds the media and local communities that this issue is not just about bathrooms. Rather, this issue centers around the tension created by those who are unfamiliar with transgender people and their rush to deny transgender students the ability to exist in public spaces and schools – let alone the fair opportunity to thrive.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress calls upon every school district, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and education stakeholders to continue integrating support for transgender students into their work.
In this effort, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress will continue the fight on the ground with local communities for freedom and justice for transgender students across the state.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress (PYC) advances freedom and justice for young LGBTQ Pennsylvanians through advocating for responsible public policy. As Pennsylvania’s first and only statewide LGBTQ youth organization, PYC represents citizens working toward safer schools and thriving communities across the commonwealth.
Category: Press Statements