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Florida congresswoman working to help transgender students

We all know that bullying and sexual harassment are problems that students in Florida and throughout the country face. However, students who are transgender or gender-nonconforming can be targets of particularly brutal emotional and physical abuse.

Now three members of the U.S. Congress, including a representative from Florida, are urging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his department to clarify the impact of Title IX on these students. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from our state, has joined Minnesota's Sen. Al Franken and Colorado's Rep. Jared Polis in penning a letter to Secretary Duncan.

The three are also the lead sponsors of the Student Non-Discrimination Act. That bill, modeled on the 1972 education anti-discrimination law Title IX, calls for "a comprehensive, explicit prohibition against discrimination in all public elementary and secondary schools across the country based on a student's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."

The letter to Sec. Duncan references a study of sixth through 12th grade students conducted in 2011. It found extremely high rates of physical, verbal and sexual harassment of students who were gender-nonconforming or transgender.

The Congress members are asking the DOE to develop "guidance consistent with the law that clearly outlines now the appropriate treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming students under Title IX." They point out that such guidance on issues such as dress standards, facilities access and privacy not only would "ensure that transgender students do not face a hostile environment," but help schools avoid costly and unnecessary litigation.

Representative Polis called the action requested by the three "the next step" in the work that the DOE has been doing to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students deal with the challenges of the school environment. He says, "All students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve an educational experience that is free from bullying and harassment."

Clearly, the best-case scenario for students is not to have to deal with sexual harassment or abuse of any kind at school. However, for too many kids who are perceived as different for any reason, that is simply not the case. Parents whose children are facing harassment that is impacting their life and education can and should do whatever they can, including possibly taking civil legal action, to help protect their children and hold schools and employees accountable for what is happening in their facilities.

Source: The Advocate, "Congresspeople Urge Dept. of Ed. to Issue Comprehensive Trans Student Guidelines," July 1, 2014.

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