City issues new guidance on transgender students

New York City schools for the first time have gotten explicit guidance from the Department of Education about how to handle students who are transgender.

For official record-keeping, schools must use students’ legal name and biological gender, but for most other uses, schools are instructed to refer to students by their preferred name and gender. The new guidance also cautions schools to maintain confidentiality around students’ transgender identity whenever possible.

But the guidance does not take a firm stand on transgender students’ participation in competitive sports, saying that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis. School districts across the country have begun to grapple with whether students may join teams that correspond with their gender identity but not their biological gender, and some states have recently changed their regulations to allow transgender students to participate in sports.

The guidance, which appeared in the city’s weekly message to principals, follows a City Council hearing last week that focused on the status of LGBT students in city schools. “Today’s education hearing is the beginning of the end to the harassment and bullying of LGBT people in our schools,” the council’s education committee chair, Daniel Dromm, tweeted during the hearing.

Eduardo Flores, who heads the LCBTQ Justice Project operated by the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said in a statement that the new guidance could keep students who are transgender in school.

“As a gender non-conforming person I feel like this is a great step for everyone attending New York City public schools. When I was in school expectations about gender roles were very limiting. I was bullied so intensely — without adequate intervention from school staff — that I dropped out of high school,” Flores said. “Now people like me can come to school dressed in the clothing that they want and teachers and staff will need to address them by the name and gender that they prefer.”