September 2013 Bar Bulletin
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September 2013 Bar Bulletin

Transgender Students Obtain Further Protection

By Stephanie Kim and Lucy Sharp


A nondiscriminatory path was recently paved for transgender students in public schools when the federal government made clear that discrimination based on "gender identity" is prohibited by federal sex discrimination laws. This federal action lends important support to our own state laws that have been interpreted to provide similar protection for transgender students in Washington schools.

On July 24, a settlement agreement between the federal government and the Arcadia Unified School District in Los Angeles made clear that Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination in public schools) protect transgender and gender-nonconforming youth from discrimination in public schools. School districts can no longer claim that treating a student differently because of his or her gender identity is not sex discrimination.

The settlement agreement was the result of a complaint filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights against the Arcadia school district in October 2011, when a student who was born a female, but identifies himself as a male, was prohibited from accessing facilities on campus consistent with his male gender identity, including restrooms and locker rooms. The student also was not allowed to room with his male peers during an overnight, school-sponsored trip.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights launched a joint investigation into the matter and concluded that the school district had in fact violated Title IV and Title IX because the different treatment the student received due to his gender identity amounted to illegal sex discrimination.

Under the settlement, the Arcadia Unified School District must:

  • Work with a consultant to support and assist the district in creating a safe, nondiscriminatory learning environment for students who are transgender or do not conform to gender stereotypes;
  • Amend its policies and procedures to reflect that gender-based discrimination, including discrimination based on a student's gender identity, transgender status or nonconformity with gender stereotypes, is a form of discrimination based on sex; and
  • Train administrators and faculty on preventing gender-based discrimination and creating a nondiscriminatory school environment for transgender students.

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