By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com March 10 2014 10:36 AM ET
Earlier today, the New York City Department of Education unveiled guidelines designed to better accommodate and protect transgender students in all New York City public schools.
The guidelines encourage schools to use a student's chosen name and pronouns whenever possible — including on student IDs — with the notable exception being on official documentation, such as a transcript. Additionally, the guidelines advise schools to avoid requiring students to use locker rooms, restrooms, and other accommodations that conflict with their gender identity and expression.
The guidelines also advise schools to comply with student requests to update names on official documentation upon receipt of a court order, and update gender on those same documents once a student submits a birth certificate or passport to school administration, demonstrating the updated gender. It should be noted that both New York state and New York City both require an individual to undergo some form of genital surgery in order to update a birth certificate. These are procedures not typically available to individuals under the age of 18.
The new guidelines have drawn some criticism, as they don't explicitly require schools to allow students access to facilities in correspondence with their gender identity, nor do they explicitly allow transgender participants in school sports, but rather advise schools to treat these on a case-by-case basis.
"We are pleased to see the Department of Education issue guidelines that support transgender students in the New York City school system and applaud its commitment to take incidents of anti-transgender harassment seriously," said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in a release. "This is a big step in the right direction, but transgender kids face unique challenges in schol that require more. Officials need to ensure that transgender students have the same opportunities as all students that allow them to thrive. That means treating them as the boys and girls that they are, including letting them use bathrooms that match their identities. Anything less stigmatizies them as the only boys and girls who are forced to use separate facilities."
Though considered less-than-perfect by some advocates, the revised policy would appear to be a significant step forward from the nation's largest school district.
As a state, New York lags behind a significant portion of the country in terms of protecting trans citizens. In 2003, New York banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but removed gender identity language from the final bill. Efforts to expand those protections to trans individuals have repeatedly failed. That makes New York one of only four states to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.