Last week, the school board in Elko County, Nevada unanimously denied a request to allow Michelle Gonzalez’ son to use the boys’ restroom. Since he came out as transgender, he has been uncomfortable using the girls’ facilities, but has been limited to using a special education unisex restroom instead. According to Gonzalez, he’s bullied every day.
But according to the others at the meeting, this boy’s use of the bathroom is a threat to other students. One mother complained that her sons would no longer to be able to use the urinals — “they shouldn’t have to go through the pressures of having to use an enclosed stall instead,” she worried. Another mother whose son is autistic stopped going to the bathroom altogether after learning he might be using the same restroom as a transgender boy. And, some worried that he might even be harmed or raped in the boys’ restroom.
The ACLU of Nevada is investigating the board’s decision and may file suit. They point out the Elko County School District likely violated Title IX, the federal law that provides protection against discrimination on the basis of sex in education. The Department of Education issued guidance last year determining that “gender identity” falls under the umbrella of “sex” and that transgender students are thus protected by the law. The school is also likely violating state law.
Among those who testified at the school board meeting were two state lawmakers. Both Assemblymen Ira Hansen (R) and Jim Wheeler (R) admitted that they voted for the LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law (SB 504) that passed earlier this year, but they didn’t know it would allow for transgender students to use the same restroom. Within the law’s definition of bullying is “blocking access to any property or facility of a school,” and in addition to students, it specifically holds accountable “any teacher, administrator, principal, coach, or other staff member or pupil who tolerates or engages in an act of bullying or cyber-bullying.” But that’s not the only law that protects transgender students.
In 2011, Nevada passed several laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. “All persons are entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation,” one of the laws reads, “without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, or expression.” It specifically defined public accommodation to include “any nursery, private school or university, or other place of education,” as well as “any other establishment or place to which the public is invited or which is intended for public use.”
Gonzalez accused the board of trying to “segregate diversity.”
“You are responsible as educators and school board members to make the decision that is best for all students. My son has the right to live his life as a boy.”