BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — The Massachusetts Department of Education has issued an 11-page document that establishes guidelines for addressing gender identity, recommending that transgender students be allowed to use bathrooms and play on sports teams that accord with the gender with which they identify.
The education department is also asking schools to incorporate training about transgender and gender-nonconforming students into anti-bullying curriculum, student leadership and staff professional development.
"Superintendents and principals need to review existing policies, handbooks, and other written materials to ensure that they are updated to reflect the inclusion of gender identity in the student antidiscrimination law, and may wish to inform all members of the school community, including school personnel, students, and families, of the recent change to state law and its implications for school policy and practice," the document, entitled "Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment — Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity," states.
The guidelines follow the state's passing of An Act Relative to Gender Identity, which came into effect in 2011.
A Pink News report notes that some school committee members do not support the guidelines. “I don’t have daughters. But if I did . . . I don’t think I’d feel comfortable having a boy going in the bathroom when my daughter is there," Brockton Public Schools committee member Thomas Minichiello is quoted as saying.
Andrew Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Family Institute, agrees with Minichiello. “Fundamentally, boys need to use boys’ rooms and girls need to be using the girls’ rooms, and we base that on their anatomical sex, not some sort of internalised gender identity,” he adds.
While some students may not be comfortable with a transgender student using the same sex-segregated restroom, locker room or changing facility, the department says, this discomfort is "not a reason to deny access to the transgender student," adding that school administrators and counselling staff should work with students to "address the discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity, to create a school culture that respects and values all students."
The guidelines note that the age at which individuals come to understand and express their gender identity may vary based on each individual's development, adding that responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student. For young students not yet able to advocate for themselves, that responsibility lies with the parent, the document says.
"Consistent with the statutory standard, a school should accept a student’s assertion of his or her gender identity when there is 'consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity.'"
The education department says it has measures in place to update name changes and gender markers upon request.