The New York Civil Liberties Union says transgender students are often harassed in public schools across the state and education officials have failed to carry out a legislative mandate to protect them.
The NYCLU says discrimination and harassment are pervasive even though a five-year-old state law to protect all students from bullying also explicitly prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived gender. In "Dignity For All? Discrimination Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York State" it is revealed that during the 2012-13 school year, schools statewide reported more than 24,000 incidents of harassment under the law, 19 percent of them related to gender stereotypes.
Lauren Frederico authored the NYCLU report. "The rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students remains largely misunderstood by educators and administrators. Even the most well-intentioned principals and superintendents are often at a complete loss."
The NYCLU says that in the absence of state guidance, schools have ad hoc policies that are mostly "insufficient, illegal and deeply damaging to transgender and gender nonconforming youth." Michelle and her daughter Sara, who did not provide a last name for privacy reasons, live in the North Country region and are among those included in the report. "Isolation and harassment experiences have devastated her self-esteem and self-confidence. On more than one occasion she has told me, I wish I could go to bed and not wake up."
Frederico says most school staff receive little to no training on issues such as gender identity and expression. "As a result, they feel confused, overwhelmed, and ultimately unclear about what's required under the law. And how to make transgender and gender non-conforming students feel comfortable in school. We have heard them ask repeatedly for the state to step in, guide their schools, and tell them how to follow the law."
Frederico urges schools to improve their data collection and reporting on issues involving trangender and gender non-compliant students.
Last December, a Southern Saratoga County school board approved a measure 4-2 to allow students on a case-by-case basis to use the bathroom and locker room facilities that reflect the gender they identify with.
The Shenendehowa district in Clifton Park is attended by nearly 10,000 students.
At the time, Shen school board president Bill Casey said "This is an emerging public issue."
Emerging, and evolving: Word came Friday that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has proposed new legislation that would require all single-occupancy, publicly available restrooms in the Big Apple to be designed as gender-neutral.
The proposal surfaces on the heels of a report by Stringer's office that found that transgender people experience harassment in public bathrooms. Advocates say it is a common-sense step to tackling gender bias and harassment.
The New York State Education Department responded to a call for comment by email, which says, in part, the "Department is developing a guidance document for districts to foster educational environments that are safe, and free from discrimination for all students, specifically transgender and gender nonconforming students." The agency plans to finalize the guidance document before the start of the next school year.