Rights at stake, again: As Trump revokes federal protections, Orlando community advocates for trans youth

By : David Thomas Moran
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ORLANDO – Local leaders are rallying behind transgender youth in Central Florida in response to the Trump administration’s recent attacks on transgender rights. There’s already been an onslaught of Trump executive orders seeking to limit the rights of immigrants, Muslims, women, the poor and now transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

President Trump’s Feb. 22 executive order, rolling back Obama-era protections, leaves trans students across the country at the mercy of local school board politics yet again.The anti-LGBTQ policy has also effectively stalled the Gavin Grimm vs. Gloucester County School Board lawsuit – a highly-anticipated, transgender rights case that until recently was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet even with these major setbacks on the federal stage, leaders in the Orlando community continue to focus on changing hearts and minds locally in support of trans youth school by school.

Several organizations including Equality Florida, Zebra Coalition and the ACLU are monitoring the situation closely.Many gathered on Feb. 24 for a roundtable sponsored by Congressman Darren Soto, who represents District 9.

Heather Wilkie, Executive Director for the Zebra Coalition, said it was one of the first times the LGBTQ youth services organization, has had a seat at the table with a member of Congress to advocate for LGBTQ youth – specifically trans issues.

“Unfortunately, there’s a higher rate of suicide ideation [for LGBTQ youth] after these type of policy announcements,” Wilkie says.

Students then don’t feel safe and go about their day at school in fear Wilkie says. But she added that sometimes all it takes it one teacher or administrator who is supportive to help get a school on the right path towards a more inclusive classroom environment.

Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Equality, says that she has also heard from students saying that they are more fearful since the Trump executive order – less fearful of other students and more of the administration and teachers who aren’t supportive.

Duncan says she was surprised to hear from a recent gay-straight alliance she spoke with that they felt safer around other students but not so much teachers and staff. That’s why Duncan says local advocates in our school districts are so important.

“As the Trump administration goes low, we go local. Education is really the first step as well as supporting school boards to develop the right policies and procedures that are inclusive of transgender and gender nonconforming students,” Duncan says.

Many had hoped Grimm’s case might be a legal remedy to Trump’s recent executive order. But now trans students across the country like Gavin Grimm – who desire to be treated equally and feel safe as they do something as simple as go to the bathroom while at school – will have to wait.

On March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court in a one-sentence statement vacated Grimm’s case and sent it back to the 4th District Court of Appeals because the federal guidelines that Trump revoked were central to the lower court’s ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court was originally set to hear oral arguments for Grimm’s case on March 28.

It’s important to note that SCOTUS ruling does not void the existing legal protections for transgender students under Title IX, just the Constitutional guidance preventing the “separate-but-equal” bathroom solution some school districts like Grimm’s in Gloucester, Virginia, are using. Meaning they provide a single-occupancy facility but won’t in general let Grimm use the boy’s restroom which he prefers. That, trans advocates argue, is unconstitutional.

Grimm, a 17-year-old high school student filed suit against the Gloucester County School Board in 2015 because they barred him from using the boy’s restroom.Grimm’s lawyers argued that the school board’s policy violated Title IX, a federal law against sex discrimination in public schools. Now a senior, it’s possible Grimm may be well out of high school by the time his case gets heard.

Last May, the Obama administration issued federal guidelines instructing school boards to apply Title IX protections to restroom accommodations for transgender students allowing them to use the restroom of their choice – in part because of Grimm’s lawsuit.

Prior to the Obama administration’s guidance, school policies protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students were widely inconsistent and often absent in school districts across the country, which is what Trump’s executed order has reverted back to.

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