ACLU urges Florida officials not to defy feds regarding transgender students


The ACLU of Florida wants state officials to know that protecting transgender students is not only required by law, but “is the right thing to do.”

In a letter penned to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the civil liberties group writes that “we hope that you will recognize the experience of school districts across the country and agree with those districts that allowing students to use sex-segregated facilities that match their gender identity is the right thing to do to ensure that all Florida students, transgender and non-transgender alike, have access to high-quality education in the public schools of our state. “

The letter comes a week after  the Obama administration issued a directive for public schools throughout the country allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. That directive has been met with resistance from throughout the country. State officials in Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Pennsylvania have denounced the directive as “federal overreach,” with some lawmakers and/or school board members saying they will actively ignore it. That statement was echoed by Hillsborough County school board member April Griffin.

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a conservative advocacy group that splintered from the Florida School Board Association last year, said the letter robbed officials of “local control in education.”

Last month, the Marion County School Board approved a measure to limit restrooms to students based on their birth sex, not their gender identity. The measure is similar to a controversial law recently enacted in North Carolina.

ACLU Florida Executive Director Howard Simon writes that “providing access to sex-segregated facilities consistent with one’s gender identity is important for the safety and well-being of transgender students, who cannot be excluded from the right that all children in Florida have to an education free from discrimination and harassment.”

“Excluding transgender students from the same restrooms used by other students that correspond to their gender identity sends a message to transgender students and their peers that transgender students should be treated differently and that their mere presence in the same facilities used by their peers is unacceptable,” Simon writes.

The group is urging state officials to refrain from advising school districts to ignore the recent guidance concerning transgender students. Independent of the reasons based in this nation’s civil rights laws that are set forth in the recently issued guidance, protecting transgender students is simply the right thing to do.

The ACLU also sent their letter to all 67 school districts scattered throughout the state.

The issue is dividing the nation. A New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday shows 46 percent of Americans say they think that transgender people should be allowed to use only public restrooms corresponding to their gender at birth. A smaller number, 41 percent, think transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom that matches the gender they identify with.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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