Gender Identity Becomes Controversial Issue in Boston Public Schools

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Gender Identity Becomes Controversial Issue in Boston Public Schools
We report on a new policy in Massachusetts that impacts one of the largest school districts in the country, as well as the rest of the state. The gender identity policy strives to ensure all students are treated equally, but it is not without plenty of concern by opponents.
One of the largest school districts in the country, Boston Public Schools, is joining the rest of the state of Massachusetts to explore the issue of gender identity. A new law passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 2011 has led schools across the state to reassess their gender identity policies to ensure all students in those schools are treated fairly and equally. However, the new law is not without its share of controversy, as not everyone in the state agrees with some of the recommendations made by state lawmakers.
 
An Act Relative to Gender Identity
 
The new law, titled, “An Act Relative to Gender Identity,” was passed by Massachusetts lawmakers in November, 2011, and went into effect in July, 2012, according to Christian Post. The law adds gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination code. The law also defines gender identity as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”
 
Boston.com reports on the results of a 2011 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which found that more than three-fourths of transgender students had been verbally harassed during the previous school year. More than 32 percent had been physically harassed and nearly 17 percent had been physically assaulted. Numbers on the website for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition are even higher. The website also states that more than half the incidents of harassment that occurred were never reported to school authorities.
 
Schools Take Action
 
In response to the recently passed legislation and concerning statistics, the Massachusetts Department of Education has written an 11-page directive offering guidelines to help schools across the state fall in line with the new law. Titled, “Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools, Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment, Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity,” requires school staff and faculty to revamp policies to bring them in line with the new gender identity law.
 
MassLive reports that the recommendations were recently distributed to public schools throughout the state. The document states, “This guidance is intended to help school and district administrators take steps to create a culture in which transgender and gender nonconforming students feel safe, supported and fully included, and to meet each school’s obligation to provide equal education opportunities for all students.”
 
The Department of Education for the state also asserts that the guidelines are designed to fall in line with the new law, by addressing specific situations faced by transgender students in schools today. The guidelines also emphasize the importance of handling each case on an individual basis, to ensure the specific needs of each student are adequately met. The guidelines are directed at students of all ages, including transgender students in elementary school.
 
Specifics of the Guidelines
 
Specifically, the new guidelines apply to key areas that can be issues for transgender students, including the restroom, locker room and changing facilities. The guidelines state that the parents of the transgender student and the principal must meet to determine what is most comfortable for the student. The principal also needs to let the parents know that the student is allowed to use facilities that are most comfortable based on the student’s gender identity.
 
“While some transgender students will want that arrangement, others will not be comfortable with it,” the guidelines state. “Transgender students who are uncomfortable using a sex-segregated bathroom should be provided with a safe and adequate alternative such as a single, unisex restroom or the nurse’s restroom.”
 
Interestingly, the guidelines do not make the same distinction for other students that are uncomfortable with the idea of transgender students using that restroom. For those students, the guidelines state, “This discomfort is no reason to deny access to the transgender student,” without providing alternatives for the student that is uncomfortable with the arrangement.
 
Those in Favor…
 
Many are applauding the new Massachusetts law and the new guidelines for public schools in the state. Boston.com cites support for the guidelines from Rev. Noah Evans of Grace Episcopal Church in Medford. Evans told Boston.com, “It’s tough, it’s really tough, and I think these guidelines are excellent…they are really thoughtful.”
 
Others have voiced their support, saying what might seem strange now may very well be considered perfectly normal in the future. The schools in the state will also begin creating more unisex bathrooms and changing rooms in the future to handle transgender issues more adeptly.
 
Those Opposed…
 
While many are applauding the new guidelines, not everyone is accepting of the change. Opposing Views reports that some are questioning the ability of the student, and the student alone, to make the decision about his gender identity.
 
“The responsibility of determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student or, in the case of young students not yet able to advocate for themselves, with the parents,” the policy guidelines state. Some believe that may not be sufficient in creating new guidelines.
 
In addition, there is concern that these new guidelines may actually discriminate against other students in the school. Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, states at Opposing Views, “The School Commissioner’s first duty is to protect all students, from kindergarten to grade 12, not endanger them.”

The debate in Massachusetts is sure to continue, with passionate views on both sides of the issue. In the meantime, states across the country will be watching with interest to see how gender identity issues will be handled in public schools in the future. 


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