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Lake Reflections

Obama Administration Stands to Help Transgender Students

The letter addressed basic LGBT terminology and prompted schools to “not treat a transgender student different from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.

The letter addressed basic LGBT terminology and prompted schools to “not treat a transgender student different from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity."

Asher Russo, Staff Reporter

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Throughout the past week, President Barack Obama has made passionate arguments for his administration’s decision to inform public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. He stated that society must protect the dignity and safety of vulnerable children.

The statements were the President’s first public comments on the national debate over transgender rights. The guidance, issued by the Education and Justice Departments, represented their “best judgment” on how to help schools with the issue.

“We’re talking about kids, and anybody who’s been in school, been in high school, who’s been a parent, I think should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority — kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender — are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially they are vulnerable,” Obama stated in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I think that it is part of our obligation as a society to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and our kids are all loved, and that they’re protected and that their dignity is affirmed.”

Considering transgender people have the highest risk of discrimination and suicide rates, currently standing at 41 percent, it seems like Obama has reason to be concerned.

The guidance has been in development for months, and the White House has said very little on the release, aside from claiming that the progress has been broadly consistent with his values. While the Republican lawmakers call it an example of presidential overreach.

The Obama administration sent a letter to every public school district in the United Sates, warning them to allow transgender students to use restrooms aligned with their gender identity, or risk losing federal funding.

Although the guidance does not have the force of the law behind it, the schools will face lawsuits or lose federal aid if they don’t comply.

The letter claims that schools will be violating the guidelines on Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education. Since the directive was sent out, eleven states have sued the Obama administration, including Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia.

The letter addressed basic LGBT terminology (for example, a transgender male is someone who identifies as male but was assigned as female at birth) and prompted schools to “not treat a transgender student different from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”

After the letter was sent out, the search for the definition of “transgender” increased more than 630 percent on Merriam-Webster.com, the dictionary company reported on Twitter.

Although this is a historic breakthrough for the transgender community, there was immediate backlash as well.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that morning, “I announced today that Texas is fighting this. Obama can’t rewrite the Civil Rights Act. He’s not a King.”

Along with the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick saying, “We will not yield to blackmail from the president of the United States. This goes against the values of so many people. This has everything to do with keeping the federal government out of local issues.”

The letter goes so far as to address issues beyond restrooms, including locker rooms, athletic teams, and even yearbook photos.

“A school may not discipline students or exclude them from participating in activities for appearing or behaving in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity or that doesn’t not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity (e.g. yearbook photographs, at school dances, or at graduation ceremonies),” the letter read.

It even urged the privacy for transgender students, informing the schools they needed to take necessary steps to keep the student’s assigned sex or birth name private if the student insists, or risk violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The letter was signed by Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights with the Department of Education, and Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

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