The protection of transgender students across the nation is at risk after the Trump administration reversed federal guidance that directed public schools to allow students to use the restroom and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities.
The move by the Departments of Justice and Education reverses guidance that the Obama administration publicized in May of 2016. The Washington Post reported that in a letter to the nation’s schools, administration officials plan to say they are withdrawing guidance issued by the Obama administration that found denying transgender students the right to use the bathroom of their choice violates federal prohibitions against sexual discrimination.
While this administrative decision puts a focus on transgender rights in high schools and middle schools, it could also alter the level of comfort a transgender student has on their college campus.
At Keene State College, the current discrimination and discriminatory harassment policy safeguards transgender students, allowing them to have equal access to the college’s programs, facilities and employment without regard to their gender identity or expression.
Title IX Discrimination and Harassment Coordinator at KSC Jeffrey Maher stated the campus remains committed to supporting an environment that protects the rights of all students, faculty and staff.
“While the current level of support at the federal level may be in a period of adjustment, Keene State’s level of commitment remains steadfast. This issue is more than bathrooms; it is about equality and unrestrained access to all of the educational and employment opportunities offered by Keene State,” Maher stated.
The equality KSC offers to transgender students has not gone unnoticed, according to KSC sophomore and transgender woman Vivian Valengavich. Coming out at the beginning of this year, Valengavich said she has never felt anything but safe and comfortable on campus.
When it comes to the reversal of the bathroom bill, Valengavich plans to continue using the bathroom that is reflective of her gender identity, regardless of a federal or state-level policy.
“I am personally going to continue doing it [using the women’s bathroom] because if someone is able to figure out I am not a biological woman, then they are the one that’s the problem, not me,” Valengavich said. “I pass pretty well, so it would have to take some serious looking to figure out if I’m a trans person walking into the women’s [bath]room.”
For Valengavich, this controversy is not about bathrooms, similar to how segregated water fountains were never about the water fountains.
“We all need to use the bathroom; it’s a human necessity. It’s not about whether or not we can use bathrooms, it’s about people trying to control other populations,” Valengavich said.
Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ Students Hunter Kirschner said he agrees with Valengavich, and these protections are only hurting transgender people.
“People go to the bathroom to use the bathroom. These protections and regulations to keep certain people out of the bathrooms is only hurting trans people who are just trying to live,” Kirschner said. “If your intention to go into a bathroom to harass someone or assault someone, you can’t. We know it is still against the law, but if someone really wants to do that, they’ll do that regardless of what the law says. Assault is not legal because a trans person can use the bathroom.”
Kirschner said he encourages students who are frightened of the Trump administration’s decision to find comfort on the KSC campus. While KSC is in favor of transgender student, faculty and staff rights, Kirschner said he acknowledges that the bathroom which reflects someone’s gender identity is not always a safe place.
A map of all the gender neutral bathrooms on campus has been compiled by Kirschner to make it easier for students to find them on campus. Kirschner is also currently working on making the signs on the gender neutral bathrooms more consistent and easier to identify.
“We’re doing the same thing we have always done in trying to create structure, practice and policy that ensures the comfort of our trans students,” Kirschner said.
Any transgender student who has any questions or concerns regarding their campus experience can stop by the Office of Multicultural Student Support on the second floor of the student center.
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org