Sarasota County still not allowing bathroom equality for transgender students

By : Anna M. Johnson
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The Sarasota County School District, after four months of community upheaval over the issue, still has no official policy that protects the rights of transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identities.

In January, Pine View Charter School created a policy that gave transgender students the right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. This change came about after Nate Quinn organized a call-in day for allies to encourage the Pine View administration to adopt an inclusive stance. Since then, the Sarasota County School Board has heard from community members on both sides of this issue through their participation in protests, emails, phone calls and public board meetings.

In the months since Pine View’s initial action, the school board has yet to issue any official directive in relation to transgender bathroom equality, and local groups have been voicing their dissatisfaction.

The American Civil Liberties Union met with Nate Quinn earlier in the year and offered him legal assistance if he decided that he wanted to file a lawsuit against the Sarasota County School Board.

“We’ve offered to represent Nate if he ever felt as though he was being deprived of his federal rights,”Michael Barfield, the Vice President of the ACLU’s Florida chapter, says.

At the moment though, there is no pending lawsuit on Quinn’s behalf against the school board.

ANSWER Suncoast, a coalition of anti-war and civil rights organizations that has supported Quinn since the original conflict at Pine View hosted a call-in day on May 25. The event instructed participants to call board members and “let them know that the time has come to listen to students and the community and comply with federal guidelines,” according to the Facebook event page.

Bryan Ellis of ANSWER Suncoast calls the board’s lack of thorough response “astonishing.”

“They’re still trying to dismiss the issue,” Ellis says. “They’re all so disconnected from the community and don’t see just how important this is.”

As of right now, Sarasota County School Board Chair Shirley Brown has informally said that the county will work on having trainings on transgender rights for its teachers.

Ellis believes that this is just an effort at appeasement for a progressive community in revolt.

“[Brown] hasn’t laid out specific protocol on how these trainings would work,” Ellis says. “She’s also said at a different time that the community isn’t ready for such a drastic shift.”

The board hasn’t given any clear instructions on what their next steps on this issue will be.

ANSWER Suncoast has a list of demands for the board on behalf of Quinn. The campaign is called #NatesList, and is composed of three main facets: getting theschool board to amend its policy against discrimination to include protection based on gender identity and gender expression, adopt district-wide policy and guidelines reflective of those in the Broward County Public Schools and create a collaborative initiative by members of the school district and organizations such as ALSO Youth and Equality Florida.

The hashtag formed from the desire to continue Quinn’s work even in his absence.

“We are really doing our best to make sure that the campaign can last even after Nate and the other students fighting equality have graduated and gone off to college,” Ellis says.

ANSWER Suncoast hopes to arrange a public forum soon with other LGBT-focused organizations, such as ALSO Youth and Equality Florida to educate on the issue before the new school year starts.

Quinn’s work in inspiring this movement has yet to come to fruition in Sarasota County as a whole, and will not until the school board makes a ruling on the topic.

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