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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 16, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 38
Restroom restrictions harm Trans students, Human Rights Watch says
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Restroom restrictions harm Trans students, Human Rights Watch says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Transgender students are harmed by school rules that prevent them from using restrooms and other facilities that correspond to their gender identity, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

'Barring transgender students from facilities that are safe, comfortable, and gender affirming is discriminatory, and that discrimination causes real harm,' the watchdog group says in a report released September 14.

'It places transgender students at heightened risk of harassment, assault, and bullying; impedes their ability to secure an education and participate fully in the life of their schools; and can cause damage to their physical and emotional health...

'For these students, being barred from facilities is not an abstract legal question but a daily source of frustration and isolation.'

The 23-page report, titled 'Shut Out: Restrictions on Bathroom and Locker Room Access for Transgender Youth in US Schools,' was compiled following the decision in August 2016 by several state legislatures, including North Carolina and Texas, to challenge federal guidelines on Trans access to restrooms and other gender-segregated facilities.

For its report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 74 Trans students and more than 50 parents, teachers, administrators, and service providers in the states of Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.

The report examines how transgender youth are adversely affected by discriminatory policies that bar them from using bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.

It also examines the preferences of some of the students involved. While all students should be able to access options consistent with their gender identity, the report notes, some students expressed a desire to use 'all-gender' options because they did not identify as male or female or because they experienced harassment in gendered facilities.

One Texas student, identified as Willow K., said she was harassed in her eighth-grade gym class because she was required to use the boys' locker room.

'I had to strip down into my girly underwear in front of a bunch of guys who would call me these rude names, and I couldn't go to the bathroom [or girls' locker room] to change...and it made me so uncomfortable,' she said.

In seventh grade, she added, she had been assaulted by a group of football players in the locker room, making the school's requirement that she use the boys' locker room particularly difficult.

Alexis J., a self-described genderfluid 19-year-old, also from Texas, described a gym class. 'I had to strip down to girly underwear in front of a bunch of dudes,' she said. 'And they're like, 'faggot.' And this was freshman year, so they're just vicious.'

Tanya H., the mother of a 9-year-old Transgender boy named Elijah, recalled, 'A year ago at this time, he was having a really hard time, and he'd go into the girls' bathroom and girls would yell, 'There's a boy in here!' and he couldn't go to the boys' bathroom, and so he stopped going to the bathroom. There were a lot of meltdowns.'

When Elijah mentioned suicide and was briefly hospitalized, his mother spoke to administrators to ensure that he would be treated as a boy when he started at a new school in the fall.

'He was kind of worried about going to a new school, and he said, 'If I can go as a boy, OK,' Tanya reported.

'He's just fallen into it, and he's so much happier...He's making friends who know him as a boy.'

Human Rights Watch also identified a number of cases where Trans students who did not have access to a gender-appropriate bathroom or locker room simply avoided all school bathrooms and locker rooms, with predictably negative consequences for their overall health.

Cassidy R., a self-described agender 18-year-old in Utah, said, 'I know a lot of my friends just didn't go to the bathroom and suffered a lot of infections and health problems because of that.'

According to health experts, avoiding bathroom use for extended periods of time is linked to dehydration, urinary tract infections, and kidney problems.

'Politics aside, schools should ensure that the rights of Transgender youth are respected and protected on campus,' Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch said. 'Schools aren't doing that if Transgender students spend their days worrying about something as basic as finding a safe and accessible bathroom.'

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