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Transgender Issues in Education  
 
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Prior to the late 1990s, few educational institutions recognized the hostility of their climates for students, staff, and faculty. But with youth whose self-identification or expression challenges traditional notions of "male" and "female" becoming much more visible on American campuses, some administrators have begun to consider the needs of transgender people and to change policies that discriminate against them.

Many school officials, however, still lack any understanding of transgender issues and only become cognizant of the community's concerns when a crisis arises, such as a conflict over a transitioning woman using the women's restroom.

Sponsor Message.

Safety on Campus

Hate crimes against individuals perceived as gender variant are rampant in society and often ignored by the media, police, and lawmakers. Since 1990, an average of one person a month has reportedly been killed in the United States because of gender identity or expression.

Colleges are not immune to acts of anti-transgender violence. A 2003 study of the campus climate at 14 institutions found that 41 percent of the transgender respondents had experienced harassment in the previous year, as compared to 28 percent of non-transgendered lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. The majority of all respondents indicated that transpeople were the most harassed group on their campus.

Unfortunately, most colleges do not address violence against gender variant people. Few institutions have a clearly articulated "zero tolerance policy" for hate crimes and hate incidents motivated by transgender bias or sponsor trans-related programming, such as the annual Day of Remembrance for transgender murder victims.

Even fewer colleges offer support services specifically for transgender students or provide awareness training to staff likely to encounter transgender students in need of help, such as student affairs administrators, counselors, police officers, residential advisors and hall directors, and health care workers.

Non-Discrimination Policies

College non-discrimination policies usually include "sex" and sometimes "sexual orientation" as protected categories. Neither necessarily applies to transgender people, who face discrimination based on their gender identity and expression, rather than their biological gender or sexual identity.

As a first step toward providing support to their transgender students, staff, and faculty, some colleges, beginning with the University of Iowa in 1996, have added the words "gender identity" to their equal opportunity statements. Other institutions that have written policies prohibiting discrimination against gender variant people include American University, Brown University, DePauw College, Kalamazoo College, Knox College, Lehigh University, Rutgers University, the University of Maryland, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Puget Sound, and the University of Washington.

Changing a college's nondiscrimination policy not only gives transpeople necessary legal recourse, but it also sends a message to the campus community that people of all genders are worthy of respect.

Gender Designation on College Records

One area where transgender people experience discrimination in education is on school documents. Recognizing that college registration and personnel forms that ask students, staff, and faculty to indicate whether they are female or male ignore the complexities of gender and signal that gender variant people do not belong at the institution, transgender advocates are beginning to lobby school administrators to use more inclusive language.

They are also asking that individuals who are transitioning from one gender to another be able to have their new gender and name (if they assume a different name) appear on college documents, including identification cards, transcripts, financial aid and employment forms, and enrollment records. Besides being a matter of fairness and respect, an accurate gender designation in school files is critical to avoid outing transgender people and to help protect them from discrimination when they apply for jobs or graduate and professional schools, and at any other time that they would need to show a college document.

Bathrooms

Another area where transgender people experience discrimination is in their use of public restrooms. The "bathroom issue" is particularly a problem for women, but butch lesbians and other masculine-appearing women are also often harassed in women's restrooms.

While non-transgender women should be able to feel safe in this most private of public environments, so too should transsexual and other gender variant women, who have a right to use the restroom appropriate for their gender. College officials who have mediated a restroom conflict have sought to balance the desires of both the transgender individual and the complainant, while recognizing that a transperson should never be denied access to adequate bathroom facilities simply because of someone's bias.

To avoid potential confrontations and to make campus restrooms more accessible to gender variant individuals, some colleges are publicizing the location of single occupancy bathrooms and designating more unisex facilities. Ohio University's Office of LGBT Programs, for example, launched a "LGBT Restroom Project" in 2001 to identify bathrooms in residence halls and academic and administrative buildings that were not gender specified and to encourage administrators to make other single occupancy restrooms available to people of all genders.

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