An Update on Title IX Protections

May 21, 2014

Saturday, May 17th marked the 60th anniversary of one of this nation’s most important legal decisions: Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

This historic ruling by the United States Supreme Court made clear that state sponsored segregation in education was unconstitutional. No longer could separate be considered equal.

Earlier this month, the US Dept. of Education released historic guidelines reaffirming federal civil rights protections to Transgender students. As part of a larger announcement about reducing sexual assaults on school grounds, DOE made explicit that, “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 [DOE’s Office of Civil Rights] accepts such complaints for investigation.”

This clarifies that transgender students will not just be explicitly protected from physical or sexual abuse under Title IX, but from all forms of discrimination in education. It is yet another step in the inexorable march towards full recognition of the rights of transgender and other Gender-expansive young people to have full access to the rights and privileges afforded their peers. In many ways, this most recent step can trace its origins to that momentous day 60 years earlier.

Other recent milestones along this path:

  • On January 1st, 2014, AB 1266, California’s “School Success and Opportunity Act” went into effect, clarifying the right of transgender students to access programs, activities and facilities consistent with their gender identity, regardless of the sex listed on their birth certificate. Despite an organized (but ultimately unsuccessful) bid to place this law on the 2014 ballot, schools across the state are working hard to implement this first-of-a-kind legislation.
  • On July 24, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division entered into a Resolution Agreement with the Arcadia Unified School District to resolve a complaint alleging violations of Title IX. The case was brought on behalf of a transgender student who was denied access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, and required to sleep in a separate facility during an overnight field trip. The agreement requires the school district to treat the student in a manner consistent with his gender identity for all purposes.
  • In June 2013, Coy Mathis won a case in which the Colorado Civil Rights Division found that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District created an unnecessarily hostile situation for the transgender girl by not allowing her to use the female bathroom.
  • Over the past 18 months, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York have issued strong guidelines outlining expectations for schools about how to specifically support the needs of transgender students consistent with statewide legal protections.

What these and many other similar occurrences all point to is that the rights of transgender and other gender-expansive children and youth are becoming increasingly clear- and supported- in their schools. In many ways, each is a link in a sixty-year march towards equity and justice. The trailblazing persistence of gender-expansive young people (and the many parents and other caring adults in their lives) has created an ever-widening path down which others will travel. Like other movements to assure that every child is able to pursue their education in a safe and respectful environment, these landmark decisions, and the many smaller, less publicized gains taking place in classrooms and schools across the country, all signal that every one of our kids deserves an education – just as they are.