US: Massachusetts issues rules respecting identity of transgender students

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New directives for schools in Massachusetts have been issued by the Department of Education, stating that transgender students should be allowed to use facilities according to their gender identity.

The 11-page document recommends that students be allowed to use bathrooms and play for sports teams that correspond to the gender they identify with. It follows a 2011 anti-discrimination law that gave more protections to transgender people in the state, but did not cover bathroom use.

The directive reads: “These students, because of widespread misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives, are at a higher risk for peer ostracism, victimisation, and bullying.”

Some local school committee members did not support the directive. Brockton School Committee member Thomas Minichiello said: “I don’t have daughters. But if I did … I don’t think I’d feel comfortable having a boy going in the bathroom when my daughter is there.”

Brockton School was sued over a decade ago by a transgender child who identified as a girl, and wanted to use the girl’s bathroom and wear dresses to school. Her parents took the school to court after the child, referred to in the case as “Pat Doe”, was told she had to wear boy’s clothing and use the male bathroom.

Andrew Beckwith of the Massachusetts Family sided with Mr Minichiello: “Fundamentally, boys need to use boys’ rooms and girls need to be using the girls’ rooms, and we base that on their anatomical sex, not some sort of internalised gender identity,” he said.

Mr Minichiello and Mr Beckwith’s views stem from a lack of understanding of transgender people, says Jane Martin, Chair of the Easton School Committee.

Ms Martin said: “If you really truly understand the nature of transgenders [sic], there’s not a girl in the boy’s bathroom.”

She added that she supported the directives and said: “We are very proud of the record that we set,” noting the district was known for “respecting the rights of all our students.”

Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Coalition said the guidelines would be “immensely helpful to those parents who have been struggling with making sure that the school environment is safe and welcoming of their child.”

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