Transphobia remains a pressing issue in the American education system

McKenna Parker, Staff Writer

Content Warning: Transphobia, suicide, anxiety, depression

The 2015 National School Climate Survey sampled transgender youth across the nation to unveil that 75% of transgender middle school and high school students felt unsafe attending school because of  to their gender expression. Regarding discomfort using school restrooms, the survey found 70% of transgender students avoided them all together, and 60% said they were forced to use a locker room or bathroom at school that did not match their gender expression. 

Transphobia in the American education system is a pressing issue that has been ongoing for many years. School boards, state governments and the U.S. government have all taken away rights from transgender students by limiting their access to restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender and lessening their educational opportunities. Young transgender students are at greater risk for mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and suicide. School boards and the U.S. government have restricted many basic human rights for many transgender students and is especially evident in the Grimm v. Gloucester County case that lasted from 2014 to 2020. 

In the 2014-2015 school year, student Gavin Grimm came out as a transgender male during his sophomore year at Gloucester High School in Virginia. Shortly afterward, the school board prohibited any student facing “gender identity issues” from using the common restrooms at the school, despite his use of the boy’s restroom causing no problems for other students. Throughout the rest of his time at the school, Grimm was the only student forced to use separate bathrooms a degrading experience for any transgender person living in America. Regardless of Grimm taking hormone therapy, legally being recognized as male under Virginia law and gaining a new state I.D. card and birth certificate with his sex listed as male, the school continued to exclude and separate him from his peers. His family filed a lawsuit against the school on June 11, 2015. 

Justice Andre Davis, now retired, was a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that advocated for Grimm when he endured the hardship of the lawsuit. 

“G.G.’s case is about much more than bathrooms,” Davis said to the court. “It’s about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy. It’s about protecting the rights of transgender people in public spaces and not forcing them to exist on the margins.” 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied Grimm’s request to use the same common bathrooms as other students for the following school year, but he eventually won the case when the court ruled in his favor Aug. 26, 2020, nearly five years after his initial lawsuit. During those five years, however, Grimm was still forced into segregation from his peers at school. 

Similarly, transgender student Willow Andring, who had her rights violated at school when she was verbally and physically assaulted her freshman year at Armstrong Junior-Senior High School outside of Pittsburgh in 2021 – roughly a year after the decision of Grimm v. Gloucester County. 

When using the girls’ restroom, a classmate yelled at Andring to get out while calling her racist and homophobic slurs. In late October of the same year, she was attacked and beaten by another student and got a concussion from the incident. 

“He pulled me from behind and started beating me up,” Andring said to CBS Pittsburgh. “Before this, he had been calling me names saying, ‘It’s not a she, it’s not a he, it’s an it.'”

After the incidents, Andring had a difficult time returning to school in fear of running into the students who assaulted her. Her mother, Heather Andring, claimed the school needed to take full ownership of what happened and address the large cultural problem at hand in order to create a more respectful environment for everyone.

G.G.’s case is about much more than bathrooms. It’s about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy. It’s about protecting the rights of transgender people in public spaces and not forcing them to exist on the margins.

— Justice Andre Davis, Retired Senior Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Recently, similar issues occurred just outside RBHS at the University of Missouri — Columbia. May Hall, student at MU and president of the Oasis organization, faced discrimination as a transgender female attending the university in April 2022. Hall was denied the ability to play in the female league for a fencing competition, and was encouraged to play on the men’s team, violating her gender identity. 

“It was disheartening,” Hall said to KOMU 8 reporters. “To read that was really disheartening and disappointing because I do love to compete. But I’m simply not comfortable with either the identification of competing in a men’s league and also there’s safety concerns for me.”

Hall organized and became president of a group at MU called Oasis — an organization that strives to support transgender students at the university. Just a day after the Republican-led house of Missouri’s state government reduced the high school sports teams that transgender students could participate and compete in, Oasis held a rally at Speaker’s Circle on Mizzou’s campus, protesting legislation limiting transgender youth’s rights in the education system. 

Transgender students have been degraded and humiliated, despite their rights being protected under Title IX — a federal law that makes sex discrimination illegal in many schools. Legally, transgender students have the right to be treated according to their gender identity, to have the same learning opportunities as others no matter their gender, to not be bullied or harassed because they are transgender or gender non-conforming, to use restrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity and many more freedoms that have still been restricted and violated in schools throughout America. 

The U.S. government and school boards have many ways to reduce the amount of transphobia seen in the American education system. The government can better enforce various acts, including the Equality Act, Student Non-Discrimination Act, Real Education for Healthy Youth Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act, that would further help eliminate transphobia by providing safer and less discriminatory classes, restrooms and locker rooms. Schools themselves can ensure GSAs and other LGBTQ+ student organizations have the same operation opportunities as other student organizations. They can also ensure that students have access to the classes, teams, activities and facilities that correspond with their gender and implement modifications to privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, such as privacy curtains. 

Remedies for the dehumanizing experiences that debate transgender students’ rights begin with citizens at home as well. Various organizations that have been created to advocate for and protect the lives of transgender youth in America are always looking for contributions. Donate to groups such as the Trevor Project, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, Trans Lifeline, Out Youth and Trans Youth Equality Foundation to support crisis services, provide legal advocacy and deliver supplies to trans youth in need. These resources help ensure the safety of transgender youth in this country and its education system. Students can organize groups to protest against unfair legislation laws made to restrict trans youth’s rights, such as Oasis did this year in Columbia, MO.  

What are you going to do to help get rid of transphobia in your community? Let us know in the comments below.