The New York Civil Liberties Union today released a report revealing the serious and pervasive discrimination and harassment faced by transgender and gender nonconforming youth in New York public schools across the state. Despite New York’s reputation as a progressive leader, the state is failing to protect the right to an education of one of its most vulnerable student populations.
“In public schools across New York, transgender and gender nonconforming children as young as five face relentless harassment, threats and even violence for trying to access their right to an education,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “And instead of supporting kids, too many schools are magnifying the problem by imposing discriminatory and even illegal policies.”
The report, Dignity For All? Discrimination Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York State, documents anti-transgender discrimination in public schools since the passage of the Dignity for All Students Act five years ago, state civil rights legislation that was supposed to protect all public school students from bullying and harassment and explicitly prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived gender, gender identity and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, the State Education Department has failed to provide schools with guidance on applying the law to transgender youth. As a result, communities large and small across the state have created their own ad-hoc policies – most of which are insufficient, illegal and deeply damaging to transgender and gender nonconforming youth. The NYCLU regularly receives requests for legal assistance from children and families across the state, and Dignity for All? is based on those stories, as well as analysis of harassment incidences reported under the Dignity Act by the state.
The NYCLU’s analysis of statewide data in Dignity for All? shows that incidents of harassment involving gender stereotypes (i.e., harassment related to a student’s sex, gender or sexual orientation) were the most commonly reported incidents of harassment in public schools. During the 2012-13 school year, New York schools reported 24,478 incidents of harassment under the Dignity Act, 19 percent of which were related to gender stereotypes.
“My daughter Sara* suffered so much bullying in ninth grade that she had an emotional breakdown over her safety. We have reported so many bullying incidents to the school -- but not a single one was recorded or investigated,” said Michele, mother of a transgender youth from the North Country region of New York who is featured in the report. “Her anxiety and depression now make it impossible for her to go to school. Families are struggling. Kids are struggling. We need support.”
Student stories in the report provide a snapshot of the damaging school climate that pushes transgender and gender nonconforming youth out of school across the state.
VIEW THE VIDEO Meet Locke, one of the students brave enough to share his story.
Issue clear and immediate guidance outlining the responsibilities of all schools to respect the preferred names and gender pronouns of students, provide all students with access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, provide private bathrooms and changing spaces to all students who desire additional privacy, and provide transgender students the same opportunities to participate in sports and physical education as other students.
Require mandatory and regular training for all adults working in schools – not just teachers – to ensure they understand the range of gender identities and expression and know what they can do to create a supportive environment for all students.
Increase oversight to ensure all schools are in compliance with Dignity Act reporting requirements and revise the current Dignity Act reporting form to clarify what information must be captured. In addition, creating a shorter reporting period (currently, schools report incidents only once every school year) would assist in tracking and addressing ongoing violations.
To download resources for students and schools or to take action, visit: http://www.nyclu.org/transyouth
*Most of the students featured in the report are referred to by pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
Meet Locke, one of the students brave enough to share his story.