Sued in the City: “Worried in Manhattan”

“I was really concerned when I read last month that the Trump administration repealed the guidelines protecting transgender students.”

Dear Yetta,

I have a child in the NYC public schools who is transgender. I was really concerned when I read last month that the Trump administration repealed the guidelines protecting transgender students. I know one issue, in particular, is ensuring that my son can use the bathroom and facilities that comport with his gender identity. How will this impact my son here in NYC, and is there anything I can do?

—Worried in Manhattan

Dear Worried,

Well, I suppose there is good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. On February 22nd of this year, the Trump administration revoked protections under federal guidelines issued under the Obama administration with regards to ensuring transgender students’ rights as interpreted through Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states in pertinent part that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” And yes, it all seems to revolve around a fight for proper access to bathrooms. Oddly, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, went out of his way here, as the regulations were enjoined and therefore not even in effect, underscoring the hostility to the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students this administration has. Even stranger, he claimed that the reason this was done was because his department “has a duty to enforce the law.” It would seem the law makes clear his duty to enforce non-discrimination based on gender, so no argument there. But unfortunately, it looks like yet another issue that will have to be sorted out in the Supreme Court, with the newly-appointed Justice Gorsuch and his eight colleagues.

The good news for those of us in New York City is that, thankfully, Mayor de Blasio has taken a strong stance against discrimination toward not just transgender students, but transgender New Yorkers, and specifically with regard to bathroom access. The mayor, in conjunction with the NYC Human Rights Commission, recently rolled out an ad campaign in support of everyone’s rights to use the restroom “consistent with who you are.” The tagline is “Look past pink and blue,” which implies a non-binary understanding around gender expression. Further, the NYC Department of Education has come out with its own guidelines for transgender and gender non-conforming students that acknowledges all students’ right to learn in a supportive environment and have their identities respected. So, to that end, I hope your son feels safe in NYC’s public schools, and if he or you ever need assistance, I strongly encourage you to reach out to the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

Email questions to kurland@kurlandassociates.com or call 212-253-6911.

This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of their own attorney.