Tuesday, September 21, 2021

PSUC protects civil rights

The Trump administration withdrew Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity, according to a CNN article.

When the news hit Plattsburgh State Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise sent an email to faculty and staff about what that means in terms of the campus’s bathroom regulations. Blaise said the email was sent in the first place because there has been a lot happening in regards to human rights, so she thought a lot of students might be alarmed for their safety.

“When you think about the rescinding of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)guidelines in relation to transgender rights, that is a pretty impactful decision by the federal government to do that. Definitely, the email was sent out to students to say that, on this campus, we follow guidance in regards to the federal government and the state when it’s in relation to the betterment of our campus,” Blaise said. “But ultimately, we’re not making changes on campus in regards to equity or inclusion just to check off boxes.”

Blaise said Title IX strives to bring change on campus to make PSUC a more inclusive and equitable space because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Besides schools sending out emails ensuring student safety, hotlines run by groups like The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline both saw small increases in the number of calls they received this week, according to representatives of the groups.

“Essentially, the thing that is really interesting is that the federal government has mandates and then there are the laws,” Blaise said. “We are lucky in that we live in a state that is very progressive and equal in approach to how they handle human rights, so in New York State, we still have protections.”

Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

The “Dear Colleague” letter, which was attached to Blaise’s email, addressed school districts and colleges that receive federal funding and was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, according to a CNN article. Another “Dear Colleague” statement was released this past week about rescinding the order.

“To me, whenever we talk about bathrooms, it just seems kind of ludicrous to me because we’re really spending a lot of time talking about people going to the bathroom. Everyone has to go to the bathroom, so I think there is a lot of misconceptions that having someone who is transgender going to use the bathroom puts other people at risk.” Blaise said.

According to the Daily Signal, a political website, which has a commentary section, one former White House staffer Bethany Kozma wrote an article praising Trump’s actions, stating that he is protecting her children from potential sexual assault. She stated, “But the fight is far from over, as there is no guarantee that local school boards will adopt sensible solutions unless they hear from concerned parents and students instead of just a vocal minority backed by well-funded outside activist groups.”

“The issue at hand, the real issue, is that being a transgender individual, going into a restroom for that person is sometimes a very scary experience, so if we don’t create spaces, where someone can shut that door behind them and have a safe space, then we aren’t serving those people,” Blaise said.

Blaise said students can continue the conversation by joining RADIUS, which stands for Reinvigorating, Advocacy, Diversity, Intersectionality, Understanding and Self-Love. The program is under Title IX, but students, faculty and members in the community are welcome to join.

“With this program, we’re acknowledging that there are other initiatives on campus who have made great strides, and we’re hoping to expand upon on the way in which we’re focusing on LGBTQ rights on campus to bridge those gaps between the campus community and the outer community increase resources,” Blaise said, “and take an intersectional perspective because I think what’s happening a lot of the times is that we’re focusing on one facet of someone’s identity and not treating or serving people as the holistic beings as they are.”

PSUC senior Kiesha Cook recently went to the Diversity Week event called “Understanding the Transgender Experience,” which was a presentation featuring Kelly Metzgar and Avan Monette, who discussed what life is like being transgender in the Adirondack North Country. Cook went to the event because she has a friend who is transgender and she wanted to understand what her friend’s life is like.

“I learned to open my mind more to the transgender community. I like that they weren’t afraid to share their personal experiences,” Cook said. “The fact that they could actually be open about it could help transgender people that were there.”
Cook said when she heard about the news, she thought Trump was trying to retract the progress that they had made thus far in terms of LGBTQ rights.

“I guess I was shocked at first, but then I thought about it and said to myself ‘ Am I really shocked?’” Cook said. “If I had to question every day which bathroom to use, or even which one I feel safer in, then I’d avoid using the bathroom all day.”

Other students also felt passionate about the issue at hand including Center for Womyn’s Concerns Secretary Steffany Wilcox. She said logistically, it would feel very backward to get rid of gender inclusive bathrooms.

“Realistically, are you going to go through and say ‘Hey, I need you to provide some identification to use the bathroom,’ that’s just silly,” Wilcox said. “If you can’t use public bathrooms, then you can’t go to school or have a job, or you can’t be active in your community if you’re not allowed to use the public bathrooms like the rest of us, who don’t have to face that challenge.”

Wilcox said she doesn’t understand that fear because she’s never had to personally go through it, but she feels empathetic toward those who do face that struggle.

“I think that this ruling and what Trump is proposing is really dangerous to transgender individuals because it’s forcing them out of spaces and saying you’re not welcome in these public spaces,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said schools should be honing in on other issues rather than shifting the focus to bathrooms, such as getting more school supplies or having more educated teachers.

“I feel like that’s a better way to help the school system because you’re just excluding more students, and if students can’t go to the bathroom during school, then they’re going to potentially drop out of school,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox also said Trump’s actions are contradictory to what he has been promising. According to a Huffington Post article, Trump promised to protect transgender rights just this past month.

“Trump’s philosophy is that we’re going to make America great again, and we’re going to make this place a better place for everyone. But if you’re not protecting rights of people who are transitioning, people who are transgender, if you’re not protecting the rights of people who are Muslim, women, people with disabilities, then you’re not actually protecting the rights of everyone,” Wilcox said. “You’re just picking and choosing who you think should have rights and if you’re truly a country that’s a melting pot, then this shouldn’t be an issue.”

Email Kavita Singh at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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