According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, or NTDS, 41 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States had attempted suicide, compared with roughly 1.6 percent of all Americans. These alarming suicide rates usually occur because of bullying, harassment and assault from peers.
Because of bullying, harassment and assault, transgender youth experience higher levels of stress and anxiety in school settings. Transgender women and underrepresented minorities are more likely to experience harassment, discrimination and sexual abuse.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, there are only 20 states where transgender pupils are protected against discrimination in public schools. Some states that protect the LGBT population from discrimination have restrictions, such as restroom use and/or public facilities. Some states even require transgender students to use staff restrooms or a restroom that is not gender appropriate.
There are about 322 million people in the United States, and of those people, only about 36 percent are protected by anti-discrimination laws. That is only about 115 million American people. So what happens to the rest of the population, many of whom identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender? They are left unprotected and alone. According to NTDS, in 2014, a study was conducted in Massachusetts, where 65 percent of transgender people reported discrimination in a place of public accommodation. Transgender people reported that harassment and abuse would occur in bathrooms, restaurants, libraries, cinemas, shopping malls, airports and other public places.
Is it fair to deny the rights of a person based on the identification of gender? Is it fair to out a person because it makes someone else uncomfortable? What about the person who is being discriminated against? They feel more than uncomfortable — they feel discriminated against.
As a teacher assistant in public schools, I have experienced many incidents in which students are bullied because of their appearance. Bullying is a serious issue and can lead to life-threatening behaviors and make it difficult to obtain a proper education and skills in order to succeed.
I find it very important to make any student’s school experience welcoming and fair, and to protect the overall well-being of a student. As a former school support staff member in Fontana, California, my main purpose was to help students and support them through their journey in school. Every public school in the United States needs to protect the rights of transgender students and incorporate their protection in public facilities, such as restrooms.
In 2013, California passed Assembly Bill 1266, which prohibits public schools from discriminating against specified characteristics, including gender, gender identity and gender expression. The bill permits pupils to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and use facilities consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on pupils’ records.
People have the right to use any public facility and join any school program or activity and not be discriminated against just because of their gender identity. Every state in the United States that does not protect the LGBT community needs to act on this serious problem before it leads to more life-threatening behaviors.
Erika Magana resides in Irvine, California, and is a graduate student at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.