Maryland State Department of Education reviewing new guidance on transgender bathrooms

Posted at 5:34 PM, Feb 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-23 19:03:32-05

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education rescinded a guidance issued by the Obama Administration letting transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the action during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. "This issue was a very huge example of the Obama Administration's overreach to suggest the one size fits all federal government approach, top-down approach to issues that are best dealt with and solved at a personal level and local level," said DeVos.

While there's no statewide policy in Maryland, there are some guidelines, and the Obama-era directive issued last year tied transgender protections to Title IX. As a condition of receiving federal funds, schools were told they would need to comply.

But even before that directive was issued, in October of 2015, the Maryland State Department of Education released non-discrimination guidelines for restrooms. The guidelines suggest that school systems provide access to restrooms corresponding to the student's gender identity.

“Some students who are stealth, nobody knows they're transgender, and they've been living as boys their entire lives, every student knows them as a boy, and to force that student to then go to a unisex bathroom or to use the girl's bathroom can be really devastating for them,” said Dr. Elyse Pine.

Pine is a pediatrician with Chase Brexton's Gender Joy program, which provides medical and behavioral health care to more than 750 transgender youth. She said she's concerned with the impact the new guidance will have on her patients.

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But even with the Obama-era directive issued last May, there's been confusion in the state about what policies school system's need to follow.

“It seems to be the bathroom issue is kind of like a hot potato issue. Nobody really wants to press the button and make a decision, whether it's the Maryland state legislature, whether it's the Maryland State Department of Education or local school boards.

A lot of folks really don't want to make the decision on the right side of the issue, which is letting students use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity,” said Jabari Lyles, the director of GLSEN Baltimore.

And he said the latest move is not just the withdrawing of guidelines, but a withdrawal of support for the transgender community.

“I think that the Obama directive really showed transgender students that they had an ally in the White House that there were federal protections that included them and now for this directive to say 'forget that,' it really shows that our federal government does not stand on the side of transgender students,” said Lyles.

On Thursday, DeVos said she's committed to protecting students to the fullest extent as well as preserving their personal freedoms.

The state department of education said they are still reviewing the guidance and did not say whether their guidelines will change.

The Supreme Court hears a case on transgender bathroom rights next month. 

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