By Melissa Garcia
DENVER (CBS4)– School officials from around the Denver metro area said that districts were already in compliance with new federal guidance on transgender student access to public restrooms when the warning from the White House was issued.
The guidance, issued by the Obama Administration, was sent out Friday to public schools and higher learning institutions across the country. It threatens to withhold school funding from schools that do not allow students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity.
Leaders in the LGBT community said that the guidelines affirm existing federal law: that discriminating based on gender is illegal under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
“Transgender students only want to live their lives and go to school like every other student does, and that includes being able to use the bathroom without harassment,” said Dave Montez, Executive Director of One Colorado.
The guidance means that schools are required to allow students who identify as females to use the women’s restroom and students who identify as males to use the men’s restroom.
“All we’re trying to do is go pee,” said Xander Fager, a recent high school graduate and Youth Program Co-Lead with the GLBT Community Center of Colorado.
Fager, who was born as a female but identifies as a male, said that he was denied access to the men’s restroom at an area high school for months during his sophomore year.
He said that not being able to use the men’s restroom at school interfered with his education.
“You end up doing a terrible job on the test, because you can’t focus,” said Fager. “You just have to go to the bathroom, but you can’t.”
Under the new guidance, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges that accept federal tax dollars are now at risk of losing funding if they fail to treat students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if that gender is different from the gender they were born with.
The guidance relates not only to school bathrooms but also to equity in transgender students’ privacy, dress code and terminology.
“It really addresses the fundamental rights that our students deserve,” said Eldridge Greer, Executive Director of Whole Child Supports at Denver Public Schools.
Greer said that DPS policies have recognized gender identity as a protected class since 2011. The district, according to Greer, has worked diligently to keep kids free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
“All things that Denver Public schools has really been on the forefront of, in supporting the whole child for the last several years,” said Greer. “So in a way, we’re glad that the (presidential) administration caught up to us.”
Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools and Cherry Creek Schools are among Colorado school districts with school policies that were already in compliance with the new federal guidelines.
Some Colorado leaders, however, said that Colorado schools should ignore the federal guidelines altogether.
“This is absurd,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican representing Berthoud. “The U.S. Department of Education must not have much to do if they are now spending time on public school bathroom policies in Denver, Danville and Duluth. Plain and simple, this is none of their business and totally beyond Congressional intent in the enactment of Title IX.”