Stripping Title IX Protections for Trans People: What Does it Mean? What Can You Do? by Oli M. Sanders
Before I begin, I wanted to acknowledge that some of this content can be triggering to folks. There is going to be mention of some transphobia experienced in school, transphobia in shelters, and the whole post itself is about the recent attack on the trans community by the GOP Administration.
Another attack has been made on the transgender community by the current administration. Last year, there was a memo leaked stating that the current administration was creating a definition for “sex” under Title IX that would exclude transgender, gender non-conforming (GNC), and intersex people. The definition of sex is proposed to say, “a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” Currently there is no definition for sex in Title IX.
And for those who aren’t aware, Title IX protects people from gender-based discrimination in places such as schools or other federally funded institutions like shelters. With this proposal, trans folks are having their identities stripped from them in addition to not having protection from discrimination in school and other places. It doesn’t help that earlier last year, the administration has already rescinded an Obama-era decision to allow trans and GNC students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity in school. All of this is extremely harmful and dangerous to trans, GNC, and intersex people in this country.
There is still a lot of confusion about what exactly this proposal means and what it will do to the trans community. The unknown can be very scary, and this is one of those times. At least to me it’s scary. I’m no stranger to transphobia, just like most other trans/GNC folks.
I think about when I was living in various shelters throughout Philly and how lucky I was that I had my ID and that it reflects who I am as a person today. I was incredibly scared to be in adult men’s shelters as a 19-year-old queer individual, but I felt so lucky that I was several years into my transition already because I was always read as male at that point in time and never had my gender questioned. I heard transphobic comments and jokes not only made by the people who were living in these shelters with me, but also from the staff working there. It wouldn’t have been safe for me to have come out as trans.
There’s a lot that needs to be fixed within the shelter system regarding trans/GNC folks, but if this proposal were to go through it makes me think about where I would go if I was still homeless. Would they put me in men’s shelter because I look like a cisgender* man? Would they send me to a women’s shelter because of what I was assigned at birth? Or, would no one accept me because I don’t fit comfortably in societies idea of a man or woman, and would I be forced to stay on the streets? The latter is what a lot of trans folks already experience.
I graduated high school in 2014. My alma mater is a small school in a small rural community about 2.5 hours northwest of Philadelphia. I came out as trans to my school right before I started 11th grade. At that time, there were no protections for trans students, or if there were, I was not aware of them and was probably having them hidden from me, being that my high school and its administration is very transphobic. I spent the last two years of high school fighting for my right to be accepted and respected in that community. I was constantly arguing with teachers to call me the correct name, to use the correct pronouns, to acknowledge me as who I am and not what was written on a piece of paper. Every day was a fight to be seen. I had someone tell me that my teacher’s jobs were threatened if they used my “preferred” name and “preferred” pronouns**. My teachers risked losing their job if they wanted to respect me as a human being. Some teachers took that risk to call me the proper name, some tried meeting me in the middle by calling me my last name and avoiding pronouns at all, and others simply didn’t care and called me by my birth name and used the wrong pronouns. I had a teacher laugh at me when I asked her not to call me my birth name. I experienced bullying, harassment, and discrimination virtually every day I walked through my school’s front doors. It was an incredibly unsafe, hostile environment for me and the other trans people in school.
When I first came out in high school, I was identifying as a binary transgender man. I did everything I could to try and fit in and be seen as another guy and not some type of “other.” But no matter what I did, I was always told “no, you are this and not that.” I was constantly hearing that I will never actually be a guy and will always be a girl by both students and faculty. The one time that I tried making my principal aware of what I was going through, he told me that “boys will be boys,” and that there wasn’t much else he could do, even though students were giving me death threats. It was so dehumanizing and toxic that I am still shocked that I made it out of there alive. I’m still shocked and incredibly proud of myself for being able to graduate and receive my diploma from such a toxic environment. I had to fight for my right to exist every day up until graduation. I had to fight to be called the correct name when walking across the stage, to sit with the other guys in my class, and to be able to wear the same cap and gown color that the guys wore because I refused to leave that school as a “girl.”
If trans students’ protections from discrimination are erased, a lot of those young people are going to be pushed out of their school. What does that mean? Being pushed out of school means that someone was forced to leave their school for different reasons, including discrimination. They feel like they have no choice but to leave because their safety is threatened every day. There are plenty of schools with transphobic administrations that don’t even blink an eye when one of their students is pushed out of their learning environment. If a young person is pushed out of their school, they are more at risk to becoming homeless or housing insecure. In my own case, I imagine if I had dropped out when I wanted to, I would’ve been kicked out of my parent’s home then because they wouldn’t have supported me for dropping out, even if it was for safety reasons, because they did not support my transition or identity. It’s important to make sure that not only are trans youth experiencing support at school but also at home as well.
So many other trans people have similar experiences in school like my own. We aren’t supported in our learning environment, which is supposed to be a safe space ESPECIALLY because so many of our schools have adopted anti-bullying policies, and it leads to young trans people being pushed out of school and if they don’t have support at home either, they end up being pushed out of there too. According to the Voices of Youth Count survey, homeless trans youth tend to experience more severe types of discrimination and traumas. As well as LGBTQ+ young people in general who are homeless, usually become so not initially after they come out but after something else happens, sort of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. This country is failing trans people. They refuse to acknowledge us, let alone give us the protections and rights we deserve.
I had been working on this post for a few weeks now, trying to make sure that I had all the necessary information, trying to figure out what this really means for us. There was a viral video going around of a trans girl in school who was using the girl’s bathroom and was then exposed to several adult faculty members. What happened was a trans girl was using the girl’s bathroom, minding her own business, and the faculty of that school came in and unlocked the stall while she was in there, exposing her to several staff members. In the video, she calls them “perverts” for unlocking her stall while she was in there using it. I think that’s a very appropriate term for those staff members. So often, the argument against trans people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity is that we are “perverts” and that we are going to harm other people in the bathroom with us. In that video, you can see that this girl was doing no harm and that all the harmful behaviors and actions came from the cisgender adult staff members of that school who unlocked the bathroom stall exposing her, and then made her leave the school in a follow up video to the original one.
I’ve been thinking about her and wondering how she’s coping and what her plans are for school. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up getting pushed out of her school. I don’t know what her home life looks like, but this is a very good example of how trans students are pushed out of school and if they don’t have support at home, they get kicked out of there as well and end up being homeless. That girl and other trans students need protections in their schools to protect them from things like this.
We need to protect trans/GNC people, especially trans women of color who are the most vulnerable in our already vulnerable community. Title IX is supposed to protect people from discrimination and if this proposal is adopted, it will open up more opportunities to continue discriminating against the trans community. The trans community needs protection, not more policies taking away our few protections and rights. The trans community needs protection. I say that again because it’s so important that people know that and acknowledge our struggles. We are struggling out here and we need all the help and love and support we can get.
If this proposal for sex to be defined in Title IX as “a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” goes through then we are reducing people down to their genitals and erasing the 1.4 million Americans who identify as trans or GNC. This would mean that even though I have been taking testosterone for 4 years and have had most of my legal documents changed to reflect who I am today, I would be referred to as a female because that’s what I was assigned at birth and is what my original birth certificate said. The only way to counteract what someone’s birth certificate says is to undergo genetic testing. The government would get to decide who I am, instead of me being able define that for myself. It’s dehumanizing and erasure.
If this proposal goes through, a lot of people will get hurt or worse, they will die. Whether it’s at the hands of transphobic violence or if a person decides they had enough and takes their life, a lot of people are going to suffer. The Trans Lifeline*** is a suicide hotline specifically for trans people and ran only by trans people. They reported that in the week after the administration announced this proposal, they had four times the amount of calls they normally get and had twice as many first-time callers than usual. People are already suffering from this and unfortunately, I’m afraid it will only get worse if the proposal passes.
Everything that I experienced in high school wouldn’t be considered discrimination with this definition of sex potentially being added to Title IX. I don’t want any other trans student to have to go through what I did in my final two years of high school.
I want a future where trans students don’t have to be afraid about whether or not they will be called the proper name or pronouns by their teachers, or if they will be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
I want future trans and GNC students to feel safe in their learning environment and feel that if they do experience some sort of discrimination, that their school and government will be there to help them with whatever they need to heal and move forward.
There’s a lot to process in this post and I realize that. What can you, the reader, do now while we wait to hear if this policy will be adopted? From my understanding, it’s just a waiting game to hear if it will go through and be accepted, and if it is, most likely it will see a lot of rebuttal through court battles and might even end up at the Supreme Court. For now:
If you are trans, know that you are loved and worthy of respect. You are enough. You are an amazing human being no matter what the government tries to do to us. Your identity is valid even if the government refuses to accept that, no one can tell you who you are except for yourself. You know yourself better than some gross old men in government. You are strong, and we will overcome this.
***Trans Lifeline’s number: US: 877-565-8860 or Canada: 877-330-6366
*Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth.
**A trans person’s name and pronouns should not be considered preferred, they are mandatory.
****GNC: Gender non-conforming