On Transgender Rights, Re-Politicizing Education is Not the Answer

Transgender students must be allowed to use facilities corresponding with their gender identity

In a gross violation of students’ rights, the Trump administration announced on Feb. 22 that it would eviscerate former President Obama’s executive order allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identity. We condemn the current administration’s move to draw students in the public education system into a political dogfight over transgender rights. Forcing transgender students to use facilities that are incongruous with their identity is not only a violation of their fundamental rights but also a significant safety risk.

No student should have to feel any anxiety or stress over such a basic need as a bathroom. Public schools are, at their core, places that foster growth and learning. By barring transgender students from expressing their gender identity, the Trump administration has decreased the probability they will be able to go about their school days normally. President Trump’s policy prohibits gender-nonconforming students from receiving an education unimpeded by fear of retribution from their schools for their self-expression—an education that all students deserve.

In removing students’ access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities, the Trump administration has also validated the rhetoric of conservative anti-transgender activists, who claim that President Obama’s executive order would have heightened the risk of sexual assault in schools. This claim, however, has little basis in fact and perpetuates a myth that transgender individuals are sexually violent. In reality, denying students the right to express themselves and forcing gender-nonconforming students into a controversial political conversation only serves to further ostracize an already-vulnerable group.

The administration’s actions suggest that civil rights are at risk during Trump’s presidency. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a controversial figure who has previously been criticized for his poor record on civil rights issues, has proudly supported the revocation of transgender protections in schools. Furthermore, although Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos initially told Trump she could not support the executive order, she was overruled. Secretary DeVos failed in her obligation to keep the students that she is responsible for safe. We find the behavior of Trump’s administration, and especially Attorney General Sessions and Secretary DeVos, condemnable.

In light of this concerning news, Harvard’s public support for BGLTQ students is praiseworthy. We particularly applaud Sheehan D. Scarborough ’07, the Director of the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, for sending out an email confirming the University’s commitment to preserving the rights of the LGBTQ community. We implore more visible University administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, to show their public support for such students. Harvard students, professors, and administrators alike must take a stand any time the Trump administration seeks to abridge basic civil rights.



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