California School Agrees To Respect Transgender Student Identities


The Downey Unified School District outside of Los Angeles, California has entered into an agreement with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to rectify its treatment of a transgender student and take measures to prevent students from being unfairly treated for their gender identity in the future.

As a fifth-grader, the student was regularly disciplined at school for her gender nonconformance. In one instance, she had her make-up confiscated (even though other girls were allowed to wear it), and was forced to write an apology letter for making male students feel uncomfortable because she’d been wearing it. She was also removed from group counseling sessions with other students due to a concern she might discuss her gender identity. The Principal once complained that she should have been “forewarned” when the student would attend school in girls’ clothing, and insisted on calling her by her male name, including in her school picture.

She was also regularly subjected to verbal harassment by her peers, who called her “gay,” “fag,” “bitch,” and “whore.” The school’s only solution was to have her sit close to the bus driver, though that didn’t end harassment she experienced as she got on and off the bus. In sixth grade, she transferred to a different middle school that was more accepting of her identity, but the peer harassment continued and the school did not take measures to change the culture.

The agreement recognizes that this kind of treatment violated the student’s protection under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The Department of Education interprets “sex” to include sex stereotyping, and thus sex discrimination includes “harassment for students for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity,” meaning transgender students are inherently protected even though “gender identity” is not separately enumerated.

The school district has hired a consultant to advise it on eliminating gender identity discrimination and creating a safe environment for all students. The student will be treated the same as other female students, including access to all sex-designated facilities without fear of discipline. Staff and faculty will also be trained on issues related to gender nonconformance and how to implement anti-discrimination policies to protect trans students. Annual school climate assessments will evaluate the effectiveness of these improvements.

The resolution mirrors a similar 2013 agreement with Arcadia Unified School District, also in California, where a transgender student was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom or locker room. California also passed a law in 2013 protecting transgender students from discrimination in schools, which conservatives have unsuccessfully tried to challenge.