R.I. proposal outlines protections for transgender students

By John Krinjak

Email: jkrinjak@abc6.com

Twitter: @johnkrinjakABC6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — New regulations were introduced Tuesday night to protect transgender students in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island already has a law on the books barring discrimination in schools based on gender identity or expression.

And a majority of districts already have policies outlining protections for transgender students.

But these new rules would require every district to have such a policy that addresses specific areas–such as privacy, use of preferred names and pronouns, and bathrooms.

Education Commissioner Ken Wagner has drafted new regulations calling on individual school districts to protect transgender students.

Marcela Betancur of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union tells us it’s needed.

"25 to 30 percent of districts actually had no policy at all to address transgender students and the very specific needs that this population had," said Betancur.

The move follows an ACLU petition prompted by the Trump administration’s actions to remove federal protections for transgender people. 

"It does not matter what the federal government does, we are required to protect people’s rights to express their gender, gender identity and any form of gender expression," said Wagner. 

In addition to having a "safe, supportive and non-discriminatory school environment," this proposal also addresses confidentiality, privacy, use of preferred names and pronouns on school records, equal participation in school programs and access to bathroom facilities. 

"This is more than just a bathroom issue, it’s a civil rights issue and addressing a student and affirming a student’s right," said Betancur.

Critics say the regulations encourage kids to be transgender, and worry the privacy and confidentiality components could exclude parents from biological decisions made about their children.

"When you have a transgender girl who feels she’s a guy and she starts having access to the locker rooms and the showers, I’m not stereotyping guys but guys at that age-she’s really setting herself up for possible sexual abuse," said Assemblies of God pastor Dave Aucoin. 

The ACLU estimates there are, on average, one to two students in each public school who identify as transgender in Rhode Island.

As for the proposal, it must go through a review, as well as a public comment period, before it could take effect.

Wagner thinks that’ll take about three months. 

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2017