Minnesotans React To Trump Administration Reversing Guidelines On Transgender Bathrooms

February 24, 2017 09:29 AM

In the time between the Trump administration's revocation of an Obama-era directive to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice and Thursday afternoon, Alison Yocom struggled to to find the right way to talk to her 13-year-old transgender son, George.

"We knew it was coming, but it still felt like a punch in the gut," Yocom said Thursday. "All they hear is, 'what if I'm not safe at school tomorrow? What's going to happen to me? How am I going to get through the day if I can't use the bathroom?'"


RELATED: Trump Administration Lifts Transgender Bathroom Guidance

But safety is a topic brought up by both sides of the debate. Stephani Liesmaki of the Minnesota Family Council called the Trump administration's move "common sense."

"It's the responsibility of school administrators and states in general to ensure the privacy, safety, and protection of all of their students," Liesmaki said. "We believe this is absolutely possible while at the same time extending compassionate accommodations to those who struggle with biological realities."

Andrea Jenkins -- a transgender activist and oral historian with University of Minnesota Libraries -- responded to that sentiment, saying, "this is merely an attempt of adults to make political hay using young children as scapegoats."

Jenkins, who said "transgender rights are human rights," added that the issue is bigger than some may have you believe.

"This issue is not about bathrooms," she said. "This issue is about trying to instill fear in transgender people to say 'you do not belong in society'."

Also on Thursday, numerous state officials issued statements opposed to the Trump administration's decision. That includes Gov. Mark Dayton, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay, and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff. Read those statements below.

Gov. Mark Dayton

I strongly disagree with the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw the protections that his predecessor provided to transgender students in being able to use the school bathrooms, which match their gender identities. This is not a ‘States' Rights Issue;’ it is a Human Rights Issue. And it should be a Constitutionally-protected right, if the long-stated purpose of the United States Constitution is to protect a minority of people from oppression by some, who are in the majority.

According to my legal counsel, there is no explicit provision within Minnesota statutes that explicitly addresses what bathrooms transgender students should be allowed to use in schools. The Minnesota Supreme Court has however previously held in the employment context that the Minnesota Human Rights Act ‘neither requires nor prohibits restroom designation according to self-image or gender or according to biological gender.’

Accordingly, it would appear that each Minnesota school district has the authority, and the responsibility, to develop its own guidelines for which bathrooms transgender students should be allowed to use in their schools.

However, I note that the Trump Administration’s pronouncement does not affect the applicability of Minnesota’s statutes and the protections provided under the state’s Human Rights Act and the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which prohibit the bullying of transgender students and all other students, for whatever purpose is prohibited by law. Schools must still ensure that transgender students are provided with safe environments in which to learn, and not harassed.

However, despite this action by the Trump Administration, I strongly urge school board members to adhere to the directives established by the Obama Administration. As a person of Christian faith, I am mystified that others, who profess to be people of faith, could demonize schoolchildren, who simply want to go to the bathroom. The vile fantasies some of those adults conjure up, which supposedly require their ‘protection,’ are more accurately reflections of their own imaginations than real-world realities.

I ask Minnesota school districts to look carefully at the results of the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, published by the Minnesota Department of Education that says that transgender students are decidedly less likely to feel safe in our schools, and that they are subject to greater discrimination, harassment, and bullying, despite Minnesota’s statutes. And more than half of all transgender students and lesbian and gay students in Minnesota have attempted suicide, according to this survey. These are vulnerable people with very challenging life circumstances. They deserve our compassion and our support – not our attacks and demonization.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius:

In statements this mornign, Governor Mark Dayton showed that his commitment to transgender students in Minnesota is unwavering. Governor Dayton strongly disagreed with the decision to withdraw federal protections provided to transgender students, stating, “This is not a ‘States’ Rights Issue;’ it is a Human Rights Issue.

I could not agree more. Every student, regardless of their race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation deserves the opportunity to learn in a safe, supportive and welcoming school. We strongly urge school boards and districts adhere to guidance established by the Obama administration directing schools to treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex. Further, regardless of actions taken by the current administration, the Minnesota Human Rights Act establishes that all students should be free from discrimination, including transgender students and students who are gender nonconforming. 

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey:

In response to recent actions taken by the Federal Government, Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith issued statements this morning reconfirming Minnesota's commitment to transgender students and reminding all of us that the protections afforded to transgender students under our state’s school bullying law and Minnesota Human Rights Act remain in place. 

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education, is committed to working with local schools to ensure that transgender students are provided with safe learning environments.  All children deserve the opportunity to be educated and the Department looks forward to ensuring that the rights of all are protected.

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff:

Every student has the right to a safe and welcoming education.  Minneapolis Public Schools supports our transgender students, families and staff. We know diversity is a key strength of our educational community. MPS will continue to provide welcoming and affirming learning environments, and our protections for transgender students and staff – whom we are proud to support – will remain the same today as they were yesterday.


Josh Rosenthal

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