As the new Department of Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, begins his term, we urge swift and forceful action to defend transgender and queer student rights while they are under attack right now. While it is impossible to reverse the harm that has been inflicted on them during the past administration, it is imperative to stop any further harm on them.
Political attacks on trans and nonbinary students escalated quickly in recent years as state legislators across the country introduced bills to limit the ways in which trans students–and trans girls in particular–get an education. These efforts were aided by the previous Department of Education, whose leadership explicitly refused to hear civil rights complaints from trans students and rolled back guidance meant to protect their rights to safe and supportive school environments.
We now see trans students targeted again. In just the past two months, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin are advancing anti-trans legislation to ban trans girls from participating in sports. If passed, these bills will have devastating consequences on their health, wellness, and academic achievement.
We need to ensure that conversations about ‘school safety’ include the lived experiences of trans and queer students. School safety means they can learn in schools free from harassment and discrimination. It means they can use bathrooms without being intimidated and criminalized. It means that they can participate in athletic clubs and programs, reaping all the health and academic benefits that come from playing sports.
The Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination Based on Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation that President Joe Biden signed in his first day in office is a hopeful signal that this new administration intends to act in defense of the rights of transgender and nonbinary students. Yet, we need the federal government and Department of Education to do more than just reverse the past harm that was done and they must move past verbal expressions of support. We need action.
The federal government and Department of Education must act now. We believe the new administration and the Department of Education has the power to take decisive action to inform educational institutions on how to afford transgender and queer students lasting protections for future generations.
The Covid-19 global health crisis has taught us that education cannot and must not be stagnant. We must evolve and improve the way we reach students and how we support them. We should not rely on the status quo but challenge ourselves to create educational environments that students can truly thrive in. For trans and queer students, this is only possible when they are safe and affirmed.
Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network) is a next-generation LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains trans, queer, and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities. In California, GSA Network connects over 1,000 GSA clubs through regional summits and youth councils. Nationally, GSA Network leads the National Association of GSA Networks which unites 40 statewide networks of GSA clubs, and GSAs Unite, an online campaign and petition platform supporting youth organizers across the country.