From the Desk of the Executive Director: AERA Speaks Out on Bathroom Rules for Transgender Students
From the Desk of the Executive Director: AERA Speaks Out on Bathroom Rules for Transgender Students

March 2017

In light of the recent passage of Senate Bill 6 (the “bathroom bill”) by the Texas Senate, sending it to the state House of Representatives for consideration, AERA reiterates its strong opposition to the legislation. As noted in the association’s January 18 statement on the bill, AERA has “grave concerns about discriminatory practices that would deny equal access to transgender persons in our country.”

AERA strongly supports the efforts of Texas Welcomes All, a coalition of employers, chambers of commerce, and other organizations committed to stopping the proposed bill. The legislation, if enacted into law, would go into effect in September 2017, after the AERA 2017 Annual Meeting, which is being held April 27–May 1, in San Antonio.

AERA is also concerned that the recent rescinding of federal guidelines allowing transgender students, under Title IX, to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding with their gender identity is a potential step backward in safeguarding the civil rights of transgender students and protecting them from isolation, bullying, and discrimination in schools.

While the withdrawal of the federal guidance does not leave transgender students without the legal protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment afforded to all students, it may functionally weaken protections for the LGBTQ community and undermine the supportive school climate students need to succeed.

It is important that schools, communities, states, and other policy-making bodies support all students’ safety and well-being, including students who identify as LGBTQ. Research suggests that students must feel safe, secure, and protected in order to reach their greatest academic potential. In the wake of this rescission, it may be necessary for schools to take extra safeguards to ensure that students who belong to disenfranchised groups based on their sexual orientation or gender identity be protected.

According to GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate survey, LGBTQ students who experienced LGBT-related discrimination at school were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month as those who had not (44.3 percent vs. 12.3 percent); had lower GPAs than their peers (3.1 vs. 3.4); and had lower self-esteem, less sense of school belonging, and higher levels of depression. The same survey finds that 85.7 percent of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people, with 40.5 percent hearing them frequently or often.

AERA remains concerned that both the rescission of federal guidelines and the potential passage of the bathroom bill in Texas are fully at odds with the protection of basic rights and the research evidence related to students’ well-being. We encourage policy leaders to be cognizant of the potential effects of these directives.

In addition, we urge support for education researchers to continue expanding scholarship on LGBTQ students and youth. Increased research attention should be given to transgender students, their school experiences, and how others in school settings interact with transgender students, faculty, administrators, staff, and families. This is an area that remains understudied, as emphasized in the AERA publications LGBTQ Issues in Education: Advancing a Research Agenda (2015) and Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges, and Universities: Research Report and Recommendations (2013).

More research will help to expand our knowledge of transgender issues, and can be used to inform laws, policies, and programs aimed at supporting the transgender community. As a field, we need to support its continued production and, as an association, AERA needs to foster and urge its sound use.