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After Hideous Abuse, Calif. School District Agrees to Respect Trans Students

After Hideous Abuse, Calif. School District Agrees to Respect Trans Students

In a statement released Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced that it has reached an agreement with California's Downey Unified School District following the district's failure to protect a trans student from years-long harassment and discriminatory treatment.

The OCR's investigation followed the alleged mistreatment of a trans female student throughout several years during elementary and middle school. By entering into the voluntary agreement, the district sought to resolve the investigation before its completion. 

The student's complaint, originally filed in 2011, indicated that she was consistently subjected to verbal harassment by peers, given inadquate protection by administrators, disciplined by school staff for expressing her gender, and discouraged from speaking about her gender identity.

Details of such discrimination, as described in the district's resolution letter, included being regularly called "gay" as an insult, "fag," "bitch," and "whore" by classmates, confiscation of her make-up by administrators, being forced to write an apology letter for making male students feel uncomfortable, being removed from group counseling sessions so she wouldn't bring up her gender identity, being called by her male name (including in her school picture), and being told by administrators she should consider transferring to another school where no one knew she was trans.

Following the resolution, the district has declared that the student will now be treated like all other female students, including given access to the girl's bathrooms and locker rooms. The district will also hire a consultant to help eliminate gender identity discrimination, and staff will be trained on how to protect trans and gender-nonconforming students. Regular school climate assessments will track the school's improvements.

Further, in a gain for trans rights advocates, the agreement indicates that the student's treatment is considered a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Although "gender identity" is not included in Title IX, and has therefore not been consistently applied in cases of antitrans discrimination in education, in this case the OCR interpreted "sex" to include sex stereotyping, notes Think Progress. The OCR therefore concluded that harassing the trans girl for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity constituted a violation of her civil rights.

The Department of Education first clarified that Title IX protections extend to trans students in April. Meanwhile, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has increasingly been interpreting Title IX's ban on sex discrimination to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming employees, and this year filed a the first federal lawsuits on behalf of two trans women who claim they were fired by employers after transitioning.

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