By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com April 29 2014 1:29 PM ET
Earlier today, the United States Department of Education issued clarification to the until-now unanswered question of whether transgender students were protected from discrimination on the basis of Title IX, confirming that transgender students are, indeed, protected by the federal legislation's prohibition discrimination on the basis of sex.
Today's guidance, released by the department's Office for Civil Rights states, "Title IX's sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation."
The extent to which this protection extends is not immediately clear, though some LGBT advocacy organizations have expressed hope that this may pave the way for more clear-cut, sweeping protections, like those currently codified in state law in California.
"This guidance is crystal clear and leaves no room for uncertainty on the part of schools regarding their legal obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination," said American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Representative Ian Thompson in a Tuesday statement. "The Office for Civil Rights must now take the next step and issue comprehensive guidance on Title IX and transgender students."
Nearly 80 percent of transgender students report experiencing harassment as a result of their gender identity at school, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"This announcement is a breakthrough for transgender students, who too often face hostility at school and refusal by school officials to accept them for who they truly are," National Center for Transgender Equality's policy director Harper Jean Tobin said in a statement. "It is now clearer than ever that schools nationwide are responsible for ensuring that transgender students are respected and safe, and students can seek protection from the Department of Education and the courts if schools fail to do so."
The legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah Warbelow, highlighted the simple truth that trans students deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts.
"Every student has a fundamental right to go to school in a safe learning environment that respects who they are as a person," Warbelow said in a statement. "We thank the Department of Education for doing the right thing and standing with transgender and gender non-conforming students who desearve nothing less than a safe learning experience."