Michigan Board of Education Adopts Guidelines Protecting Transgender Students

Protecting Transgender Students

The Michigan State Board of Education has taken a major step toward protecting the rights and safety of LGBT students in the state. Today, the board voted 6-2 to approve a new set of statewide policy recommendations for the inclusion and support of LGBT and students at K-12 public schools, including a slate of reccommmendations focused specifically on transgender students.

The document covers a wide range of topics, including supporting inclusion of LGBT content in classrooms, encouraging faculty to engage in learning and training on LGBT students, protecting students from harassment, and collecting data on LGBT students' achievement. More controversially, the document also makes clear recommendations that transgender students be a allowed access to bathroom and locker rooms congruent with the their gender identity.

It also includes provisions for protecting the identities of transgender students by classifying their birth name and transgender status as protected information, strongly encouraging staff to respect students' choice of name and pronouns, and protecting students who are not yet out in their home environment.

The measure was approved after the board heard testimony from members of the public, including several opposed to the measure as well as a number of transgender K-12 students who would be potentially affected by the recommendations. Officials with the Lansing Association for Human Rights attended the event and tweeted some of the testimony:

The Advocate spoke with Emily Dievendorf, interim president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights and former executive director of Equality Michigan, who attended to today's hearing. She discussed the pain of hearing the parade of vitriolic speakers attacking the measure, saying, "We endured hours of the same vile hate speech today that we have in past meetings of the Michigan State Board of Education, and from a multitude of speakers claiming to represent faith, love, and acceptance. It was painful for the LGBTQ in attendance, many of whom were youth, and those allies who came to support us."

Dievendorf also spoke of how important today's vote is for transgender students in Michigan, sharing:

"The lies didn't intimidate our education leaders and keeping our LGBTQ kids safe won, hands down, over the hate and fear of their elders. If anything the vitriol we've witnessed while trying to achieve this victory was yet another example of how much ignorance LGBTQ kids are still up against and how much work we have to do to ensure our leaders and neighbors start to recognize Trans people for what they are, human beings just wanting to live without punishment for who they are. The guidance this document offers our schools is one big step toward stronger, safer, kids who are better able to learn and toward a more equal future."

In a statement shared on the organization's website, current Equality Michigan executive director Stephanie White said, "At a time when far too many of our leaders in Michigan and across the country are focused on scoring political points at the expense of the health and safety of transgender students, our State Board of Education put the needs of students first."

While adoption of the recommendations is voluntary for school districts, today's vote represents one of the first major state-level policy victories for LGBT advocates in Michigan. The move has, however, been widely opposed by conservative state legislators. When an early draft of the recommendations was first circulated in May, Republican State Sen. Tom Casperson proposed a bill that would have forced all students in the state to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their birth-assigned sex.  

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is also among the officials from more than 20 states currently suing the Obama administration over U.S. Department of Education interpretations of Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, recommending that schools allow transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their expressed gender identity.

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