What Rights Do Transgender Students Have Under Title IX?

December 15, 2020
Transgender Students' Rights

How Title IX Protects Transgender Rights 

Statistics sometimes reveal ugly truths. Sadly, statistics confirm that transgender students are bullied in school at alarming rates. According to one article, over 80% of transgender students are bullied in school. How is this possible? What are the prevailing legal issues that impact transgender students?  

One significant problem impacting transgender students is transphobia. Transphobia refers to dislike of transgender individuals, which often leads to cruelty and even acts of violence. When these acts are tolerated, the victims suffer with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. Clearly, there needs to be zero tolerance and better preventative education concerning this type of hate.  

Transgender Students’ Rights Under Title IX 

Transgender students should not suffer in silence when experiencing transphobia. We encourage transgender students to report acts of bullying and discrimination to their schools. Legally, transgender students enjoy all the same legal protections as gender conforming students. If schools don’t respond to investigate reports of transphobia (and discipline offending students), transgender students can file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) for a Title IX violation. OCR is empowered under Title IX to enforce legal protections for transgender students and has provided guidance on its website. 

Transgender Students in Sports 

However, understanding transgender students’ rights under Title IX isn’t always clear-cut. Take sports, for example. In some states, students can only participate in single sex teams that match the gender identity listed on their birth certificate. Other states, like California, allow students to select the team that matches their identity of choice. Still, other states take a mid-approach and will allow students to deviate from their birth identities if there is an accompanying medical certification with hormone information. These state-to-state differences can leave students (and their parents) confused, embarrassed and frustrated. 

Transgender Students Rights: Bathroom Facilities 

Choice of bathroom facility for students has also been a hotly contested issue with a lack of uniformity in how schools respond. On Monday, the US Supreme Court rejected a July petition from parents in Dallas, Oregon, as the petitioners claimed that allowing a transgender student to use bathrooms or locker rooms that matches their self-identified gender was a Title IX violation. Just this past August, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals announced that it’s unconstitutional for students to be prevented from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. These opinions come after the Trump Administration rescinded prior guidance from OCR making it unlawful for schools to restrict bathroom choice that aligns with a student’s gender identity. In the coming months, we predict that the Biden Administration will return to the prior OCR guidance concerning this issue. The bottom line is that all students should feel safe in the bathroom.  

Given that many are still unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable, with non-binary gender identities, what can school administrators do to combat transphobia? School leaders can invite outside professionals to teach faculty how to address student bullying when it occurs. Students also benefit from education and awareness. Sometimes, the simple act of opening a facilitated dialogueallowing students to pose respectful questions and providing answers can raise awareness about an issue and dispel stereotypes.   

How We Can Help

So, where do we come in? Well, we have represented transgender students in a variety of contexts at schools. We have filed due process complaints when public school districts have failed to provide these students with special education and related services, including the correct accommodations. Likewise, we have helped navigate families filing Title IX complaints when transgender students have been bullied and the proper procedures were not being followed. Finally, we have defended transgender students in situations where schools try to impose discipline without looking at the context in which an alleged behavior was committed. No matter what the circumstance, we work to ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to access their education and related extra-curricular activities, free from discrimination and harassment. If you have any questions about how Title IX protects transgender students’ rights, contact Susan Stone (scs@kjk.com / 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (kws@kjk.com 216.736.7217).