Advocates push for LGBTQ protections in New York schools

A bill would require all New York schools to establish policies and procedures for the treatment of transgender or gender non-conforming students.
Advocates push for LGBTQ protections in New York schools
Posted at 7:49 PM, Apr 11, 2023

In New York, advocates are pushing for a bill that would create safer environments for LGBTQ students in schools around the state. 

The bill has been in the works since 2017, but supporters hold on to hope the bill will get enough support and eventually pass. 

"Bullying students or transphobia or things like that are often not taken as seriously as they should be," said Weintraub, a 15-year-old LGBTQ student who has experienced bullying in school. 

"There was a lot of students who would make fun of other students' pronouns," they added. 

The student identifies as transgender and uses he and they pronouns. They asked us only to use their last name. 

Being or feeling different, they say, is not easy when navigating school environments. 

"I think schools can and should create environments where trans and gender-expansive people feel supported, protected in being who they are while they're at school," said Trevon Mayers, the senior director of advocacy and community engagement at New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.

"There could be people that are homophobic, transphobic in these schools that happen to be administrators, and they're not allowing students to use the bathroom that identifies with their gender expression," said Ace Sutherland, director of community organizing at Equality New York. "And that's a problem." 

Both advocates are supporting New York Senate Bill S369: The Transgender and Non-Binary Anti-Discrimination Requirements in Schools bill. 

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The bill would require boards of education of every school district in New York state to establish policies and procedures regarding the treatment of transgender or gender non-conforming students in grades K-12.

Brad Hoylman-Sigal sponsored the bill. 

"Legislation like this can shine an important spotlight on what we need to do to make our kids feel safe in the classroom," he said. 

"In 2010, New York passed the Dignity for All Students Act, and it was intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression, as well as a number of other characteristics like race, religion, disability status, etc.," Mayers said. 

But Mayers adds that act alone is not enough. 

"This particular legislation is intended to ensure that the implementation of DASA also encompasses the unique needs of trans and gender expansive people," he stated. 

The bill has two versions: Bill S369 in the Senate and Assembly Bill A840. Both were introduced in 2017, and remain stuck in the education committee. 

"It's not clear cut, but there's vocal opposition to these bills. It's more that the status quo often persists in state capitals like Albany," Hoylman-Sigal said. "But we need to change that." 

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Helen Qiu, member of the Education Councils at the New York City Public Schools, does not think the bill should pass.

"The presupposition of this bill is transgender is normal, right? It has no need for any medical attention. That is the presupposition. I would not agree," Qiu said.

Across the nation, anti-trans laws are on the rise, with more than 450 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislative sessions this year, according to an analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union

These are bills that restrict health care, education and the freedom of expression for the LGBTQ community. 

"Nationwide, trans and nonbinary youth and elders are being eradicated from legislation," Sutherland said. 

In 2021, a survey by GLSEN found 81.8% of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe in school because of at least one of their actual or perceived personal characteristics. 

"I think that in my current school, how the staff treat the students, it's a lot more accepting. The staff tend to be more aware of different LGBTQ issues and other marginalized groups," Weintraub said. "From student to student, there still is transphobia and homophobia, but I think it's less direct at my school than when I was at public school."

The Trevor Project 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health finds nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their White peers. 

"We see the impact here in New York state, where the rates of suicide ideation are skyrocketing among transgender kids," Hoylman-Sigal said. "That is something we need to be responsive to." 

Legislators have until June to pass the bill.

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