Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported Massachusetts state officials' announcement of an 11-page document of the rights of transgender students in their elementary and secondary public schools. These guidelines state that transgender students may use their identified gender’s bathrooms and join their identified gender’s sports team, among other details. Executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Tom Scott explains the reason for literature on the complicated issue in that, "We need to ensure that everybody has a right in school to feel they have a place ... In that regard, [the guidelines] are absolutely imperative."
The guidelines represent more of an outline of the rights for transgender students, as state officials understand that every child and case is unique and deserves specific attention and flexibility. If a transgender student would feel safer changing for P. E. in a unisex bathroom or the nurse’s office, then they will be accommodated. On that note, transgender students may not be denied access to their preferred bathroom or locker room because of another student’s discomfort, ensuring that the guidelines promote school-wide acceptance and an intolerance of discrimination.
These guidelines are a great beginning for a dialogue between students and educators, as well as between transgender students and their peers. By eliminating the "don’t ask don’t tell" element in schools, children’s curiosity will be responded to when questions and issues arise, hopefully creating an open and socially aware group of young people. These guidelines first make a safe place for transgender students to accept and exist as themselves publically, which then gives their peers accurate information to understand and accept, rather than simply fall back on reactionary misconceptions of the transgender population.
This is good start to social openness and the flexible standards accommodate that one size does not fit all. The ability for children’s needs to be met on a case-by-case basis is rewarding and the baseline for standards seems strong. When the Massachusetts Family Institute reflected concern over the safety of boys' ability to use girls bathrooms, the state responded by ensuring that there is a "consistent and uniform assertion" that the "gender related identity is sincerely held as a part of a persons' core identity." This isn’t a summer blockbuster about Adam Sandler cross-dressing; it’s sexual orientation and gender equality.
Massachusetts has always been a figurehead for education reform and schools have apparently been accommodating transgender students in these manners for some time, actually claiming to be ahead of the document’s requirements. These guidelines are more a political statement than anything else. Massachusetts is also one of 13 states (as well as Washington, D.C.) to have law prohibiting discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but this is still the beginning. Every week there are stories of discrimination throughout the United States against gay and transgender students and educators being discriminated against, often to catastrophic degrees.
These guidelines are a good start for the state level, but national recognition is required for gay, lesbian, and bisexual and transgender rights to provide safety to students across the United States.