This week, the Trump administration rescinded a 2016 guidance mandating that U.S. schools provide trans students with access to gender-appropriate restrooms, locker rooms, and other gendered facilities. Claiming that the Obama-era guidance failed to satisfactorily explain how Title IX extended coverage to trans students, the Justice and Education departments revoked it "in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved." This puts trans youth — who have been coming out in unprecedented numbers due to a more friendly climate — at serious risk.
But there's something else you can do — and ironically, you can thank the conservative fetish for states' rights for it: You can leverage federalism to secure protections for transgender students in your own community, or even state, whether or not the feds think they're entitled to it. The federal government hasn't passed a law mandating that trans students be denied access to public accommodations. It's just said that schools aren't required to provide it — which means that you can force the issue and require your schools to affirm the rights of trans students, by becoming more active in your community.
1. Get To Know The Law
Before you delve in, get familiar with existing protections — and restrictions — on trans rights in your state. The ACLU has an excellent starting guide for understanding the laws regarding trans civil rights. Here in the Golden State, for example, trans students are actually explicitly protected, with the law mandating that trans students should be allowed to access appropriate gendered facilities and activities. Boom.
Your state may have different legislation. It could have a patchy and vague legislative framework, or it could have laws that actively interfere with trans rights — and in many states, bills barring trans people from gender-appropriate facilities are in the works, too.
It's possible your county or parish and city have passed additional laws — pro or anti — that may be relevant as well. Go ahead and take your time; the Transgender Law Center notes that this change in federal guidance doesn't change any existing laws, and it's ready to fight.
2. Advocate For Change
If you feel that trans students are not sufficiently protected by the laws in your area, it's time to go to the local level to advocate, and there are two areas where you can have an impact: The school board and your local board of supervisors or city council.
What you want here isn't a resolution or a solidarity statement. You want a clear, enforceable policy mandating that schools — public and private — provide trans students with access to gender-appropriate facilities and activities. Passing a resolution is often pretty easy, but it's worthless if it is not enforced.
Start with the school board. Give them a call and politely ask about their plans for protecting transgender students. If they don't have any, ask why not. If they do, thank them, and keep on it. Set a time each week to call for a status report. Consider attending school board meetings. If you don't like the policy priorities on the school board, run for school board so you can change them or find a candidate to support.
Your city council or board of supervisors also has the power to pass an ordinance clearly spelling out civil rights for trans people. They don't need to reinvent the wheel or invest a lot of staff time — there's a lot of language used in laws and ordinances that can be borrowed. That ordinance could go beyond schools to other public accommodations as well.
Start with the school board. Give them a call and politely ask about their plans for protecting transgender students. If they don't have any, ask why not.
If you're represented by a specific supervisor or city council member, contact that person. As with the school board, call once a week until you see movement, and consider going to meetings. You can also contact the mayor or chair. Again, if they don't move on this issue, run for office to replace them, or support a campaign you believe in.
For bonus points, contact your state legislators, too. Explain that you want clear guidance on trans civil rights at the state level, and provide examples of legislation you encourage them to adapt or mimic. As with local officials, you'll want to make a habit of calling repeatedly until they introduce or cosponsor a bill.
3. Push Back Against Myths & Discrimination
You may encounter some discriminatory rhetoric when interacting with officials and members of the community as you push for formalized protections for trans youth. Here are some common claims I have heard, and my own quickie rejoinders. It's also worth stressing that in these discussions, most people are very specifically targeting transgender women.
- "But I don't want men in the women's restroom."
Great, neither do I! Transgender women are women, and want to use the bathroom like other ladies for purposes like peeing and checking their makeup. It sounds like what you're actually concerned about are sexual predators — and the myth that allowing transgender women to use women's bathroom allows sexual predators greater access to those spaces has been thoroughly debunked.
- "Right, sexual predators! People could be physically or sexually assaulted in the bathroom."
That's a very serious concern! But one that has nothing to do with allowing people to use the correct bathroom. You may be surprised to learn that statistics show not a single trans person has committed an assault in a bathroom — but trans people report routine harassment, abuse, and both physical and sexual assaults in bathrooms. Additionally, no evidence suggests that inclusive laws and policies have ever been used as a shield for criminal activity.
- "Okay but these are kids, and we need to protect them."
I 100 percent agree! Children are incredibly vulnerable and it's critical to protect them — by, for example, not forcing girls to go to the bathroom with boys. In California, where a comprehensive law protects trans access to public facilities, school districts have reported zero incidents.
- "I'm still concerned about sexual violence or triggering rape survivors."
I am also concerned about sexual violence — which is why it concerns me that transgender women in particular are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than members of any other group, with one in two trans people reporting sexual assault during their lifetimes. Rape survivor organizations have spoken out on this issue, arguing that they don't want to be used as a weapon for attacking trans civil rights. It's also worth noting that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows — not by cis men donning dresses and swooping into bathrooms.
- "I'm worried about privacy."
Me too! Which is why it sure is great that most public bathrooms in the U.S. have privacy stalls, and that many locker rooms also have private or semi-private showers and dressing areas.
- "Aren't private, single occupancy restrooms enough?"
Isolating trans students from the rest of the student body in a segregated bathroom is often proposed as a happy medium solution. One issue here is that there aren't always sufficient accessible single stall rooms. This also singles trans students out for attention, which can be uncomfortable; they want to be able to duck into the bathroom between periods like everyone else. You could, of course, designate all bathrooms all gender if you wanted to avoid this problem!
- "Can't they just hold it until they can get to a private bathroom?"
Nearly 2/3 of trans people report doing just that, actually; the consequences of holding it can include severe urinary tract infections and incontinence. Some trans people say they restrict fluid intake when they're in public due to concerns about bathroom access. Using a bathroom safely should be a basic right, especially in schools, where students should be focused on learning, not pooping.