How is new guidance from the Trump administration, affecting which bathrooms transgender youth can use in schools, impacting Vermonters?
Christie Howell teaches at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, heading the gender and sexuality alliance club.
“I had a student from our club come up to me and just, just distressed about it and saying what are we going to do? Can we meet about it? Can we talk about it?” Howell said.
Howell says students are worried about the Trump administration’s new guidance released Wednesday, reversing President Obama’s policy allowing transgender students to use whichever bathroom the student identifies with.
The new administration now says it’s up for the states to decide.
Bathrooms at the Vermont Commons School have been gender neutral since it opened 20 years ago.
“We’ve always upheld that you use the bathroom that conforms with your gender identity,” Howell said.
While the independent school follows rules from the National Association of Independent Schools, the Head of the School Dexter Mahaffey says it also incorporates guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education, including the state’s best practices for supporting transgender and gender nonconforming youth.
Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe said in a statement to educators yesterday, regardless of the changes at the federal level with respect to transgender and gender nonconforming students, out Vermont guidance is still in effect. As always, the intent of the State of Vermont is to ensure the safety of all children first and foremost.”
That said, Howell says some students are still concerned.
“Just knowing that there are people in this country that who don’t see him the way he sees himself, and I think that’s dehumanizing for him,” Howell said.
Local 22 / Local 44 posed this issue on our Facebook page. Some responses include “Bathrooms should just be male and female.” Another person says students should decide what happens “since they’re the ones using the bathrooms.”
Dana Kaplan, the Director of Education with Outright Vermont, works with about 70 gender and sexuality alliance groups in schools across the state, including Vermont Commons.
Kaplan says these conversations shouldn’t just be focused on bathrooms.
“Bathrooms are one example of ways that we set up things in a binary system, which sets up a forced choice for many individuals and that doesn’t work with the core of who they are,” Kaplan said.
Teachers and advocates are still working on ways to make all students feel included in school.
Reaction from other local leaders:
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) said in a joint statement with Vermont leaders:
“Vermont remains committed to ensuring all students feel safe and welcome in their school. Our schools will continue to operate under the Vermont Agency of Education’s best practices, which are based on Vermont statute that protects individuals based on gender identity. These practices are not dependent on Federal law or guidance, so will not be impacted by changes in Washington.”
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan:
“It has been nearly ten years since Vermont outlawed gender identity discrimination. Since then, we’ve seen broad acceptance of Vermonters of all kinds and an overall embrace of our kids, who deserve our support. We will continue to support all of our kids and all Vermonters regardless of their gender identity. We will enforce our state laws against any one that attempts to deny Vermonters their right and fair treatment.”
“In New York, whether you are gay, straight or transgender, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people – and we will continue to enforce our laws and stand united against those who seek to drive us apart.