By Sophia Boxerman.
In the midst of a heightened legal battle between the Obama administration and North Carolina over transgender rights, a recent declaration signed by Justice and Education department officials outlined what schools should do to eradicate existing discrimination.
Sent to school districts on Friday, May 13, the letter is not a law but implicitly threatens schools that disobey Obama’s directive with loss of federal aid or potential lawsuits.
Consistent with the Obama administration’s employment of policies and lawsuits to protect LGBTQ rights, the directive affirms that “a school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”
To defer criticism of the directive, the letter also says that schools are obligated “to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”
Dr. Libano says that Sharon High is “way ahead of the curve” with regard to accommodating all orientations.
“It’s really other parts of the country that are still grappling with this issue that lack the openness and respect for others that is present in Sharon,” Libano said.
“It’s really a non-issue here,” he added.
Social studies teacher Ms. Beebe, the advisor of the GSA club at SHS, says that she thinks it is important that President Obama acknowledges what is “true and real” for members of the community.
“This is the new thing—it’s going to open up dialogue,” Beebe said.
“Personal identity is both a philosophy and reality. It’s the new frontier of thinking and discourse,” she added.
“Everyone deserves to have the same rights,” said junior Natalie Gray.
Junior Jonathan Dickerman says that he thinks the transgender rights should be determined by each state. “If North Carolina thinks that [disallowing transgender people from entering the restroom of their choice] is an issue, they should be able to handle it themselves,” he said. “The norm should be respected.”
In a statement regarding the letter, secretary of the Department of Education John B. King Jr. said that no student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school.
“We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence,” he said.
Beebe says that she admits that securing transgender rights is an issue that cannot be easily resolved, the debate used as a vehicle to expose old stereotypes about the LGBTQ community.
Nevertheless, she says that this legislation will “lead to the changing of minds” to fit modern times and align with universal equality.