Transgender students will be protected by NYS state law

Feb 24, 2017

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a directive to the state education department to tell all school districts to protect transgender students. This is in response to the removal of a federal transgender bathroom guideline by the Trump administration. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley gathered reaction. 

“What he just did, is from my perspective, an act of bullying,” said Greg Rabb, an openly gay city council member in Jamestown that also teaches at Jamestown Community College. He’s been fighting for the rights of members of the LGBTQ community. 

Inside a Buffalo School bathroom.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

The new directive by President Trump now leaves it up to states to decide on the use of bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender students. But Rabb said too many transgender members are the most vulnerable and need protection.

“But why is he putting us in reverse, and then turning it over to the states. A lot of states simply aren’t going to do what I think is the right thing, again exposing our transgender youth to all sorts of problems, including violence and death. I don’t know how the many can sleep at night when he does stuff like this,” Rabb stated.

In New York a state law calls on schools to provide safety for transgender students. Governor Cuomo is urging the state Education Department to make sure this is clear for all school districts.

WBFO spoke with State Supreme Court Justice Jeanette Ogden in Buffalo. Ogden noted the federal directive was only a guideline not a law.

“What they did was simply indicate that states are free to make their own determination, and in New York State, we already have a law that addresses the issues of bathroom related matters for LGBTQ communities. And so we have to look for the resources that may be available so that we can implement that existing law,” Ogden explained.  

Inside a Kenmore-East High School hallway.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Buffalo Attorney Tracie Lopardi is an expert on education law with Harris Beach. Lopardi said she expects school districts to continue to struggle with the issue.

“School districts are going to proceed very cautiously with regard to every students comfort level wherever they are as well as parents comfort level and making sure that all students are protected,” Lopardi said. “Why is this a state issue when Title IX is a federal law?”

The state attorney general and state education commissioner issued a joint statement saying they “vehemently objected” to Trump's decision, but vow transgender students will be protected across New York State.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind this guidance sends a dangerous and divisive message and threatens some of our most vulnerable young people,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “But in New York State, the law remains the law -- and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school.  My office will use all the existing tools of federal, state, and local law to ensure that transgender kids are safe in their schools and are provided equal access to all programming and facilities consistent with their gender identity.”

Our most sacred duty as parents, educators and leaders of state agencies is to protect all of the children in our care,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday. So we must do everything in our power to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all. The guidance we have developed with Attorney General Schneiderman and our partners underscores the value we place on respecting all students and indeed all people.”

The Buffalo Public School District approved a transgender policy last fall. The district said it will keep that policy in place to protect students. A statement was issued by the district from Chief of Staff Darren Brown,

"We have an approved local policy based on NYSED guidance, therefore the federal reversal has no impact on Buffalo.  The Buffalo Public Schools embrace all students and continue to be committed to a safe learning environment for everyone."