Oregon Quietly Increases Protections for Transgender Students

While other states battle Obama over bathroom rights, our department of education is fostering safe learning environments for everyone.

By Tuck Woodstock May 27, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

On certain topics—the best brewery in Portland, say—we can all agree to disagree. But on other matters, like safety and equity for transgender youth, there’s not much space for debate: it’s vital that schools create safe and equitable environments for all children, regardless of gender identity (or race, class, religion, etc.). 

The Obama administration clearly agrees. On May 11, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch delivered a landmark speech in which she assured the nation’s estimated 700,000 transgender citizens that “we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.” Two days later, the administration delivered on its promise, issuing a directive that instructed the nation’s public schools to provide transgender students with access to facilities that match their gender identity.

Earlier this week, 10 states struck back. Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, the governor of Maine and the Arizona Department of Education are suing the federal government over its directive, claiming that the administration has "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment.”

Meanwhile, Oregon has quietly moved in the opposite direction. On May 5—more than a week before the federal mandate was issued—the Oregon Department of Education issued a 15-page document titled “Guidance to School Districts: Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment for Transgender Students.” The groundbreaking guidelines are peppered with simple but powerful declarations like “the person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is the individual student” and “there is no need for the student to prove their new gender.” The document also suggests that teachers and administrators do the following: 

  • Modify school records and transcripts to reflect a student’s preferred name, gender, and pronouns.
  • Allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity (as well as providing unisex facilities).
  • Use preferred names and pronouns, and keep birth names confidential when possible.
  • Permit students to participate in activities like cheerleading, prom, and intramural sports in ways that affirm their gender identity.
  • Recognize different gender expressions and identities in sexuality education courses, per an existing OAR Rule.
  • Take action against transphobic bullying and create a discrimination-free environment for all students.

It’s not often that you’ll find us weeping with joy over educational guidelines, but between this decree and Portland’s pioneering approach to transgender health care, we’re proud to see Oregon leading the charge on transgender rights. Texas, take note.

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