The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidelines [7] saying that transgender and gender-nonconforming students are protected under a law that bans discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity,” the guidelines, released April 29, state. The department’s civil rights office (OCR) accepts such complaints for investigation, the document says. “Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations,” the guidelines note.

“Our federal civil rights laws demand that all students — women and men; gay and straight; transgender or not; citizens and foreign students — be allowed to learn and participate in all parts of college life without sexual assault and harassment limiting their opportunities,” Catherine E Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, says in a statement accompanying the release of the new guidelines. “The Office for Civil Rights stands ready to enforce this core principle to ensure all students’ safety in schools.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality welcomed the news, calling the announcement a “breakthrough” for transgender students.

“It is now clearer than ever that schools nationwide are responsible for ensuring that transgender students are respected and safe, and students can seek protection from the Department of Education and the courts if schools fail to do so.”

Announcement of the guidelines follows last year’s settlement of a case in which a transgender boy in the Arcadia, California, school district faced discrimination when he tried to use facilities that accorded with his gender identity at school and access student cabins for male students during a school-sponsored overnight academic camp.

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