EDITORIAL: Difficult trans rules
Transgender students are in a tight spot.
In the past couple of weeks, they've seen the Trump administration call back guidelines from President Barack Obama that said schools had to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. Then on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court punted back to lower courts a decision on a lawsuit by a Virginia boy who sued his school district after they said he had to use the girls' facilities because he was born female.
Transgender issues have come into the public view as more children discover earlier and earlier that their gender at birth doesn't fit how they see themselves and step up to say they want that to change.
About 1.4 million American adults, or about 0.6 percent of the population, identify themselves as transgender, according to NPR, with younger adults most likely to identify as transgender.
There are approximately 150,000 transgender youth ages 13-17 and 206,000 transgender people ages 18-24 in the country, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Those students already face a tough school life, with 82 percent saying they heard negative comments about their gender presentation from fellow students and 31 percent hearing those comments from school personnel, the Williams Institute said. Seventy-seven percent said they had been verbally harassed or physically assaulted, and one in six who were out before graduating from high school dropped out of school entirely because of the harassment.
The problems with school continue to affect trans people in their adult lives, with trans people four times as likely to live in poverty and twice as likely to be unemployed, according to GLAAD.
Many transgender people avoid using public restrooms altogether, leading to health problems including dehydration, urinary tract infections and kidney infections.
As many as 82 percent of trans people consider suicide at some point, and of those who do try to kill themselves, three-quarters do so before age 18, according to the Williams Institute.
With all of that in mind, schools have a duty to keep trans students safe and to normalize their education as much as possible. But they also have a duty to make sure other students feel safe and have no privacy concerns.
Trans students attend schools in York County, and Pennsylvania provides no guidelines on how to deal with them, leaving it up to the individual schools to make decisions about who uses which bathroom and locker room.
In York Suburban School District, those questions are dealt with on an individual basis, according to superintendent Shelly Merkle.
“We have a number of transgender students, and we have addressed their bathroom needs individually, and quite frankly they run the gamut,” Merkle said.
This seems the best way to handle any situation.
Transgender students are each unique, as are all students. What works for one might not work for another, and their needs change as they mature.
Perhaps the solution nationally is to stop trying to fit everyone into tiny boxes based on labels such as transgender, gay, straight, cisgender, bisexual or asexual.
Each student is different, and their individual needs must be met that way, individually. Each student must feel safe while they're in school, and they must feel free to use restrooms and locker rooms without harassment.
There's no single solution that will make that happen for every student, but schools have to work to find the right solution for their students, one individual at a time.