By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com January 17 2014 4:42 PM ET
The Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based anti-LGBT advocacy group, is still relentlessly focused on attacking a transgender teenager in Colorado — months after the group's initial claims that the teenage girl was "harassing" her classmates in the bathroom were proven false.
During the nationwide conversation that emerged from the institute's targeting of the teen, identified in responsible media reports as "Jane Doe" because she is a minor, a number of antitrans activists published the girl's name. Doe's mothers reported that their daughter was subsequently harassed and bullied, and that she received death threats, which were so traumatic for the girl that she was reportedly placed on suicide watch. Doe and her family emerged from the harassment, and told The Advocate in December that they were focused on healing and moving forward. Doe was named one of The Advocate's runners-up for 2013's Person of the Year, while the Pacific Justice Institute made The Advocate's annual list of biggest homophobes.
But it appears the Pacific Justice Institute isn't done with Doe yet. The right-wing organization issued a press release earlier this week announcing that its attorneys submitted a draft policy to administrators at Florence High School in Florence, Colo., where the 16-year-old attends school, addressing the topic of transgender students.
But the policy is less guidance on how to accommodate trans students and more a way of suggesting that the rights of trans students should be contingent on the comfort level of their cisgender counterparts. The proposed policy reads:
District staff shall make every effort to accommodate students who exclusively identify with the opposite biological and anatomical sex, but in a manner that is consistent with other students' reasonable expectations of privacy.
Gender-specific facilities include, but are not limited to, restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and dormitories. District staff shall allow use of gender-specific facilities, consistent with asserted gender identity, subject to these guidelines. In any case where a sincere objection is raised to the use of a gender-specific facility by an affected person who uses such a facility on the basis of anatomical gender identity, the District shall reasonably accommodate such objection and provide alternative facilities for persons claiming gender based or non-anatomical factors. Such accommodation shall include any case involving undressing in the presence of others in a gender-specific facility.
In gender-specific facilities, such as locker rooms, as well as in off-campus activities such as sleeping arrangements on overnight school trips, administrators and staff shall be sensitive to the privacy needs of all students. When possible, District staff shall make scheduling and other arrangements that will preserve both privacy and adequate access to the facilities associated with the student's sex and gender.
School superintendent Rhonda Vendetti told the Canon City Daily Record that the district received the proposal, and officials plan to discuss it during a school board workshop scheduled for February 10. She did not commit to taking a vote on it.
In essence, the policy drafted by the institute would allow trans people equal access to facilities matching their gender identity only in instances where there are zero objections by cisgender students. If any cisgender student expressed discomfort at sharing facilities with a trans classmate, the policy would segregate those trans students from their classmates.
But such a provision would likely be a violation of state law. In 2008 the Colorado legislature passed legislation that bars school districts from instituting policies that discriminate against employees, the public, and students.
And in June, Colorado's Civil Rights Divison issued an unequivocal ruling declaring that transgender people should be granted "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations in a place of public accommodation," which includes public schools. The ruling was a response to the case of Coy Mathis, a transgender 6-year-old who attended Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain, Colo. After more than a year of Mathis using the girls' restroom without incident, school administrators abruptly informed her that she could no longer use the restroom and would instead be restricted to a single-stall bathroom in the nurse's office. Mathis's parents pulled her out of school until the state's Civil Rights Division ordered the school to provide equal access for the child.
"I hope the LGBT community is paying close attention to what is happening in Colorado. Our youth need our support," says Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, in an interview with The Advocate. "School policies must ensure all students have a fair opportunity to participate and succeed. No school policy should stigmatize our students."
"As educators, we have to ask ourselves if we are meeting the educational needs of all students, including our transgender students and their families," Joel Baum, the director of education and training for Gender Spectrum, an organization dedicated to providing gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for children, tells The Advocate. "Our responsibility is to make sure that every student is able to participate fully at school. So the question becomes, 'Are we providing the most supportive learning environment to ensure that every child can be successful?'"