Tackling Trans-Equality at APS

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Photo Credit: Chapendra via Compfight cc

By Margaret Wright

— Albuquerque’s school policy board considered rules that would affect transgender students last night. Two points of concern: gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms, and requiring modified birth certificates before altering school records.

Board members postponed making any final decisions, citing ongoing debate about the district’s first draft of policies.

APS doesn’t have consistent guidelines for accommodating the needs of transgender students and parents, said Policy Analyst Carrie Menapace. She said APS should take cues from California and ask the New Mexico Legislature to clarify school policy for every district statewide.

Some proposed APS rules are based on recommendations by a transgender task force, which was “created to identify educational barriers and make recommendations to ensure fair treatment of transgender students,” she added. The task force recommended schools offer gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms.

Board member Kathy Korte said this should be considered carefully so transgender students aren’t “set up for identification” and further stigmatized. She also sharply chastised local media for what she called the spreading of misinformation about the intent of the rules.

“Nowhere on this does it say that students get to choose which bathroom to use. That is not the issue.” Korte also urged fellow board members to “not be knee-jerk” and automatically fall in line with the New Mexico Activities Association regulations.

That APS draft of rules includes requirements for changing a person’s gender or name in school records. It’s based in part on a controversial rule made by the New Mexico Activities Association last month.

Transgender students would be required to alter gender on their birth certificates before it can be remedied in school records. If transgender students need their name changed, they’ll also have to first obtain a legal name change through the court system.

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, who also sits on the board of the New Mexico Activities Association, said he was responsible for the motion to approve the sports association’s guidelines requiring revised birth certificates. He defended the action at the meeting last night and said he’d have no problem implementing the APS draft proposal until the state Legislature takes action.

The proposals for name and gender change have been criticised as prohibitively expensive and burdensome for most families. Transgender folks have to provide medical proof of sexual reassignment surgery before their birth certificates can be changed, despite the fact that such surgery is often not medically or financially feasible. Robyn Bell, whose daughter is transgender and an APS alum, said she knows from personal experience that “a legal name change is not cheap or straightforward.”

In a letter to district administrators, Bell wrote that in 2007 her daughter made a request to change her name on school records. “Compassion and the best interests of my child were the overriding factors in our situation, and APS took the right and just action and allowed my child to be registered as female and in her chosen name.” As a result, Bell added, “this support from APS has allowed my child not to focus every minute of her school life on how she is different from other students.”

After the board’s discussion, Adrien Lawyer, a member of the APS transgender task force and executive director of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, voiced concerns about Superintendent Brooks’ decision-making.

“I don’t think he understands the extent of discrimination transgender students face on a constant basis, nor how that contributes to their disproportionately high dropout statistics and unprecedented rates of suicide.”

Lawyer said he was also disappointed district administrators seemed to be “passing the buck” to the Legislature.

“We can’t count on legislators to do the right thing. This is the same state Legislature that hasn’t dealt with gay marriage,” he said. “I have no reason to believe they’ll take appropriate action now for transgender citizens.”

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