By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com February 20 2013 6:08 PM ET
The Massachussets Department of Education on Friday issued an 11-page directive for educators dealing with transgender students, reports the Associated Press. The new directive instructs teachers and administrators to allow transgender and gender non-conforming students to use the bathrooms and play on the sports team that aligns with the student's gender identity.
The rules were issued after the state board of education requested guidance on conforming to the state's 2011 antidiscrimination law, which included transgender people, according to the AP.
"These students, because of widespread misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives, are at a higher risk for peer ostracism, victimization, and bullying," reads the directive.
The document also clarifies that trans students may access the locker room and changing facility that corresponds with their gender identity, regardless of physical anatomy.
Advocates for transgender youth heralded the decision, saying it would help resolve confusion among teachers, parents, and school administrators struggling to support transgender students.
The guidance will be "immensely helpful to those parents who have been struggling with making sure that the school environment is safe and welcoming of their child," Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition told the AP.
While some right-wing organizations condemned the document, claiming the rules force students to "ignore a basic truth of anatomy," the directive clarified that the trans student's safety and access to basic facilities trumps a non-transgender student's possible discomfort at sharing those facilities.
"Discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student," the document plainly states.
And students who persistently and intentionally use the wrong gender pronoun or name to refer to a trans student are subject to rebuke, according to the directive. Such behavior "should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline," reports the AP.
Education department spokeswoman JC Considine responded to critics, who claimed that school restrooms are public accommodations and therefore not covered in the 2011 antidiscrimination bill.
"We're talking about the use of school facilities by students who have no choice but to be in a school building," Considine told the AP. "Kids have to have restroom access."
Oregon recently became the first state to offer medically necessary transition-related healthcare to trans youth covered under Medicaid.