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School Administrators Urged to Support Transgender Students

PHILADELPHIA — Standing with transgender and gender nonconforming students is the right thing to do. That’s the message some education advocates want school administrators to hear. 

The Education Law Center has sent an open letter to the Eastern Lancaster County School District supporting its policy allowing students to use facilities that match their gender identity. According to Lizzy Wingfield, a Stoneleigh legal fellow at the Center, there often is confusion about what is required of schools. She pointed out that while state and federal law do not explicitly list transgender or gender identity as protected classes, they are protected under provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex.

“This open letter is an attempt to dispel this confusion in this instance and to call on the Pennsylvania Department of Education and others to join in in dispelling that confusion,” Wingfield said.

She added that affirming students’ gender identities can help them succeed in school.

Controversies around transgender students have mainly focused on which bathrooms they are allowed to use. But Wingfield said that is just one way students may be the victims of discrimination.

“Students who are transgender or gender nonconforming are being what their parents might call bullied, but what we know is harassment, because it’s based on their gender identity or their transgender status,” she said. “The administrators aren’t recognizing it as that and aren’t taking it as seriously as they should.”

Studies have shown that students who face discrimination and harassment at school based on their gender identity are more likely to suffer mental and physical health consequences.

But policies and practices are not uniform across the state. Wingfield believes it would be helpful for the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue an official guidance for administrators.

“As much as I think our open letter shows that trans students are protected under current law, having the Commonwealth make that stance would be really strong evidence for these school boards and administrators,” Wingfield said.

She said affirming the rights of LGBTQ students is the right thing to do, both legally and ethically.

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