Earlier this year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice sent a joint letter to schools regarding the treatment of transgender students. The letter provided guidance to schools on how to create a “supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment” for transgender students. The notion that students should be free from discrimination seems to be a controversial one for many. A number of states have filed suit to stop the government from even recommending ways to provide a non-discriminatory environment for students. Texas, Georgia, Maine and 10 other states are asking a Federal Judge in Fort Worth to put a stop to the recommendations, despite the fact that the letter has no legal weight and contains no penalty for states choosing to ignore it.
The letter did not establish the rights of students to be free from discrimination. The U.S. Constitution established that right with the 14th Amendment preventing states from denying people the “equal protection of the laws.” While the U.S. Constitution should be enough, some states are fighting against the notion that they cannot discriminate based on gender identity or expression. These states are fighting for the right to discriminate.
Fortunately, New Jersey is not among the states looking for ways to harm transgender students. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination bans discrimination or harassment based on transgender status, gender identity or gender expression. While transgender students are still subjected to bullying and abuse in disturbing numbers, there is at least a legal remedy available in New Jersey.
History does not look kindly upon the states that fought tooth and nail to maintain their prejudices. Some states chose to fight to preserve segregated schools. Some chose to fight against providing female students with the same opportunities as male students. It seems there is always someone willing to fight advances in fairness, decency and inclusion. Even a toothless call to provide a nondiscriminatory setting for transgender students is too much for these opponents of equality. Hopefully, as was the case in similar battles in the past, the people fighting for equal treatment under the law will prevail.
Source: Reuters, “Texas, other states to ask judge to halt Obama transgender policy” by Jon Herskovitz, 12 August 2016