Gender Creative & Transgender Kids in Schools: What's the Big Deal?
What can families do when schools are harming their kids?
Posted Oct 07, 2011
Also, the media coverage surrounding Chaz Bono's transition has brought more public attention to the issues of gender and how it impacts different lives differently. Unfortunately, this increased public awareness doesn't seem to be translating to increased sensitivity or understanding for these children and their families. For example, just last week an ad ran in the National Post - a large Canadian national paper - that had the image of a young girl and the headline, "Please don't confuse me!" Fortunately, the post did issue an apology, however it did illustrate many conservative families' and schools' perspectives on this issue.
More recently, ABC Primetime aired a show in the end of August that showcased various families who are trying to best support the diverse gender expressions of their kids. One of the families showcased is the family who authored the new children's book, "My Princess Boy" -- a huge hit among families with gender creative kids. Sadly, these children often face extreme amounts of bullying, harassment, and
- Montgomery v. ISD no. 709 (2000) - Title IX damages could be awarded on the basis of sexual orientation harassment becuase it is often based on "failure to meet expected gender stereotypes". The school settled for an undisclosed amount
- Theno v. Tonganoxie (2005) - Found that gender stereotyping and related anti-gay harassment is actionable under Title IX. The court found that "the plaintiff was harassed because the primary objective of the harassers appears to have been to disparage his perceived lack of masculinity." District settled for $400,000.
In a related case, a district was sued but was not found responsible becuase it took a multi-tiered approach to responding to the harassment.
- Doe v. Bellefonte Area School District (2004) - John Doe filed suit against his school for being "deliberately indifferent" to three hears of sexual harassment due to his "effeminate characteristics". The school responded in a variety of ways:
- Addressed each reported incident
- Students were suspended and given warnings
- District sent memos to faculty and staff informing them of the situation and requesting assistance in addressing the harassment
- Doe was offered a "special means" of reporting to the school psychologist
- School held assemblies and enacted policies re: peer to peer harassment
This whole-school response was not wholly effective in eliminating the harassment, but it was sufficient to demonstrate that the school was doing everything reasonable to ensure it was meeting its obligations to try and create a discrimination-free learning environment. This basic legal literacy can help parents advocate for their children and encourage their schools to take appropriate steps to address any problems in the school.
In addition to this case law, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter to all U.S. public school districts in October 2010 providing clear guidance on how to interpret and apply Title IX. This letter included the following statement:
"Title IX prohibits harassment of both male and female students regardless of the sex of the harasser-i.e., even if the harasser and target are members of the same sex. It also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping. Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target."
The letter goes on to specifically emphasize the duty schools have to address such forms of harassment:
"When the behavior implicates the civil rights laws, school administrators should look beyond simply disciplining the perpetrators. While disciplining the perpetrators is likely a necessary step, it often is insufficient. A school's responsibility is to eliminate the hostile environment created by the harassment, address its effects, and take steps to ensure that harassment does not recur. Put differently, the unique effects of discriminatory harassment may demand a different response than would other types of bullying." (pg 3-4)
- Stop the bullying & harassment
- Offer extra protection before & after school (collaborate with local police and school security)
- Provide in-school counseling and/or a safe space for the student
- Offer professional development for the entire school staff (including support personnel & aides)
- improve library holdings on gender diversity issues
- revise school policies to reflect Title IX mandates
- make dress code exceptions (see previous blog posts here and here)
- offer education to the whole school community (students & parents)
- make accomodations for PE class and bathroom use
- use child's preferred name
- support social transition (from one gender to another) with an integrated action plan