MASSACHUSETTS - The state of Massachusetts has taken a giant step towards equality for transgender students over the weekend. Following passage of a Massachusetts law that took effect in July barring discrimination of transgender students in public schools, Massachusetts public school officials for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced on Saturday that they will be implementing new state guidelines that will grant transgender students the same rights as other students who attend public schools.
Once the new guidelines go into effect, transgender students will finally be allowed to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas for the gender with which they identify with, but those who are not comfortable doing so will be provided with alternative accommodations, such as a unisex or nurses station’s bathroom. Though the guidelines do state that school officials will assess cases individually, and are allowed flexibility in making accommodations, transgender students cannot be denied access to their preferred bathroom or locker room because of other students’ discomfort.
Also according to the new guidelines, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state regulatory body for school sports, must now defer to the gender determination made by the student’s district to now allow transgender students to play on sports teams designated for their preferred genders as well.
The guidelines also call on schools to use transgender students’ preferred names, gender-specific pronouns, and reflect their preferred genders on transcripts.
The guidelines state that a school should accept a student’s transgender identity when there is “consistent and uniform assertion” of it, or “any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity.” Schools can question the assertion only if officials have “a credible basis” for suspecting that the identity is being used for “some improper purpose.” The guidelines do not elaborate any further on that point, nor do they outline an appeal process for students and families.
The guidelines state that school administrators and counseling staff will work with students to address the discomfort, and to foster understanding of gender identity, to create a school culture that respects and values all students.
According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a New York-based advocacy group, Massachusetts is now one of 13 states that have laws prohibiting discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since their release on Friday and announcement on Saturday, the Massachusetts guidelines have drawn praise from transgender advocates, as well as criticism from detractors.
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