States’, students’ rights

States’, students’ rights

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Though nothing had been finalized as of presstime, the Trump administration this week was expected to issue guidance on the treatment of transgender and gender-conforming students — and, not surprisingly, the outcome is not anticipated to be good.

Under the previous administration, federally funded schools were instructed that trans students are able to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity, even if they were born with a different gender. White House spokesperson Sean Spicer alluded earlier this week to that rule, suggesting the issue should be dealt with at the state level rather than federally. 

That reasoning is the same that was bandied about during the debate over marriage equality and countless other issues of equality. And it continues to hold no weight. Despite what critics contend, trans students aren’t asking for “special” rights. They’re not requesting any exceptions, exemptions or expansions — they’re simply seeking to be treated equally. And they deserve that — not only ethically and morally, but all students deserve equal protection, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

If the administration rolls back these protections, countless trans and gender-nonconforming youth will be at risk for discrimination and harassment in their schools, places that are supposed to be safe and inclusive. Without formal policies in place, the landscape for youth will be in chaos: Some states, schools and officials may be cognizant of the need for trans-affirming positions, while others won’t, leaving students in the lurch. 

Studies have shown that youth who can attend school without the fear of marginalization are more likely to succeed, while those in restrictive settings are at risk for academic struggles, peer issues and more. 

Exposing these youth to those risks for the sake of states’ rights is shameful. That argument, like the criticism of federally mandated marriage equality, is simply an attempt to invalidate a community’s identity. But, like with the fight against marriage equality, erasure is infeasible.

Same-sex couples continued to fall in love, form unions and families, regardless of their respective states’ laws. Trans youth will continue to exist, to come out, to need and deserve an education, regardless of their states’ positions on inclusive education. Depriving students of a safe education won’t make them invisible — it will only deprive our society of the contributions of youth who have grown to recognize their full potential.

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