Long Island transgender advocates condemned as “deplorable” President Trump’s decision to rollback federal guidelines protecting the rights of transgender students in the nation’s public schools.
The Trump administration’s new order rescinds a directive laid out last year by the Obama administration, which warned that preventing students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity could potentially make schools vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits under Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law.
Parents and supporters of transgender youth on Thursday expressed dismay at the rollback of the Obama-era guidelines, which they characterized as a dangerous assault on human rights.
“All students deserve the dignity and right of being free from harassment and discrimination, including use of the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity,” David Kilmnick, CEO of The LGBT Network, said during a press conference Thursday with transgender Long Islanders and parents. “Refusing to protect our most vulnerable youth is both deplorable and dangerous.”
The Departments of Justice and Education on Wednesday published a joint “Dear Colleague Letter” to the nation’s public schools revoking Obama’s guidance measures from a year ago. The administration argued that the previous administration’s directive created confusion, led to a rise in litigation and was ill-advised because it lacked “extensive legal analysis.” The letter also makes clear that the new administration believes that decisions regarding education policy should fall on individual states and local school districts—a notion long championed by Republicans.
Transgender advocates bristled at the suggestion that protection for trans youth fall under education policy instead of more broad federal anti-discrimination laws.
“They covertly use the words like safety, privacy, state rights and choice to justify their actions when in fact they are working against the values Americans hold most dear: freedom, equality, and justice,” Kilmnick said.
LGBT advocates acknowledged that students in New York State are protected under a similar guidance directive issued by the state Department of Education in 2015 and more broadly, under the Dignity for All Students Act, which was signed into law in 2010.
Regardless of state law, Kilmnick said falling complacent is dangerous because the protection groups currently enjoy at the state level could eventually be eroded depending on the ever-changing political winds.
“We have to be vigilant, we have to resist, we have to stand together and not let this administration keep stripping away civil rights and liberties from all these different groups,” Kilmnick said.
Those most affected expressed consternation at the president’s latest decision.
“Yesterday really hit home because I am a parent of a transgender youth,” said Lauren Bocketti of Massapequa.
Turning to her son Zach Mahmud, she said, “He is my hero, he is the greatest person that I know.”
Mahmud, who is 10, transitioned at the age of 4. He was only 2 when he went to his mother and said: “Why did God make me a girl?”
Despite the challenges, Mahmud has been “treated fairly” at his elementary school, Bocketti said, adding that her son’s principal often reaches out to report on how he’s doing.
“This cannot be allowed to go on,” she said of the attacks on transgender people.
Madeline Bruni, 18, began her transition in middle school, she said. She owed her ability to persevere to her family, who supported her through the process.
“If you’re going to take away something it has to be a privilege, using the bathroom of your choice is not a privilege, it’s a human right,” Bruni said.
Bruni said she’s been mocked, had the police called on her at a local restaurant after entering a bathroom, and was told to use the nurse’s bathroom at school following complaints from other parents.
“It almost made me feel like I was some kind of deviant,” she said.
Ethan Diaz of Hempstead said he personally had never been confronted but has heard troubling stories from friends about their bathroom odysseys.
“Just knowing my friends, my community, had problems and can’t even bring themselves to use the bathroom they feel they’re assigned to—not even assigned—deserve to use,” he said. “They can’t feel comfortable enough, so they go to the restroom that makes them uncomfortable, gives them anxiety, makes them feel scared even more.”
New York State in 2015 issued its own guidance to school districts stipulating that students should be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
On Thursday, state officials reminded schools of their responsibility and said they’d stand up for students’ rights.
“In New York, whether you are gay, straight or transgender, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people–and we will continue to enforce our laws and stand united against those who seek to drive us apart,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
“Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “So we must do everything in our power to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all. The guidance we have developed with Attorney General [Eric] Schneiderman and our partners underscores the value we place on respecting all students and indeed all people.”
Schniederman, one of Trump’s most staunch critics, said schools are mandated to protect the rights of all students, including transgender youth.
“The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind this guidance sends a dangerous and divisive message and threatens some of our most vulnerable young people,” he said. “But in New York State, the law remains the law—and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school.”
What’s most egregious, Klimnick of LGBT Network said, is how fear among transgender kids has become normalized in society.
“That is not something that we should accept,” he said.