Report shows harassment and mistreatment of trans and gender non-conforming students in NY public schools

A new report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union entitled Dignity for All? Discrimination Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York State reveals that transgender and gender nonconforming students in New York public schools continue to face discrimination and harassment from school officials and other students, despite legislation specifically in place to prevent them. The legislation, called the Dignity for All Students Act, explicitly prohibits discrimination in schools based on actual or perceived gender, gender identity, and gender expression. Additionally, the Dignity Act calls for schools to take additional, affirmative steps to ensure their schools do not become hostile environments to students.

Despite the Dignity Act being in place, even five years after its signing into law, many schools are still treating transgender and gender non-conforming students differently and unjustly. The report highlights the stories of several transgender and gender nonconforming students from around the state who have faced struggles such as public and persistent interrogations about names by school officials, refusal to allow students to use the school facilities corresponding to their gender identity, severe depression and anxiety, and even physical assault. The combination of improper conduct from school officials and lack of education to other parents and students regarding gender identity forced every single student highlighted to leave their school.

Lastly, the report gives recommendations to the State Education Department on how to ensure that all New York public schools know how to comply with the law, and model policies for fostering a safe and supportive school environment to the schools themselves. On the state level, the report calls for the immediate guidance and training of all staff working in schools, not just teachers; improved data collection and reporting in both specificity and frequency; ensuring that schools have an accessible, confidential means of accepting complaints or reports of mistreatment; and the passing and enforcement of a state regulation to ensure transgender and gender nonconforming students have the same educational benefits and opportunities that all students are entitled to.

To the schools themselves, the report recommends that schools allow transgender and gender nonconforming students access to the appropriate facilities according to their gender, and especially not to segregate them by requiring them to use separate facilities such as the nurse's bathroom. The schools also should allow students to change their gender marker on student records, and to keep the students' transgender status confidential. Especially stressed is the need for faculty to use the students' preferred names and to prevent and deal with incidents from students that go against this.

With the release of this report, the NYCLU hopes to ensure the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming students are respected across the state.