Denver school board votes to require gender neutral bathrooms in all public schools

Teachers ordered to use students’ preferred names, pronouns; hang LGBT rainbow flag in classroom, if desired

Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom for the 15th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 9, 2016.
Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom for the 15th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 9, 2016. | Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

A new school board for Denver Public Schools unanimously passed a resolution in its first meeting requiring all district schools to have at least one all-gender bathroom. The board has also made it mandatory for staff to use students’ preferred names and pronouns irrespective of their official names or gender.

The resolution added that no employee should be disciplined for disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity in work-appropriate ways, and that teachers and other staff should be allowed to hang a rainbow flag or other symbols that represent support for LGBT people, The Denver Post reported.

“While we all hope that schools serve their purpose as an incubator for creativity, connection, and learning, far too often they can be lonely or hostile places,” Daniel Ramos, the executive director of the LGBT advocacy group One Colorado, said in a statement. “This resolution is a much-needed step to protect LGBTQ youth, educators, administrators, staff, and parents from becoming targets of bullying and abuse.”

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“In Denver Public Schools, we believe that love always trumps hate,” at-large board member Tay Anderson was quoted as saying. “It is time that we fight for everybody in the United States of America.”

Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to admit a challenge to a Pennsylvania school district’s policy of allowing students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm representing a group of students suing the school district over the policy, denounced the denial of appeal.

“No student’s recognized right to bodily privacy should be made contingent on what other students believe about their own gender,” ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy, John Bursch, said in a statement at the time. “But we hope the court will take up a similar case in the future to bring much needed clarity to how the lower courts should handle violations of well-established student privacy rights.”

Last August, a federal judge ruled that a Virginia school district's policy preventing a trans-identified student from using boys' bathroom facilities violates the U.S. Constitution.

A 2015 Obama administration guidance, which was rescinded under the Trump administration in 2017, encouraged all public schools to allow trans-identified students to use bathrooms, showers and locker rooms of the opposite sex, if they claim to identify as the opposite gender. It interpreted Title IX law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex to also include protections on the basis of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” even though such protections are not expressly written into federal law.

The 2015 guidance was opposed by a number of social conservatives and concerned parents who feared that a policy allowing access based on gender identity would violate the privacy rights of other students who feel uncomfortable changing clothes in front of members of the opposite sex.

Policies for trans-identified students and bathroom access vary by the school district and by state across the nation. While some school districts have opened their bathroom and locker room facilities on the basis of gender identity, others have passed rules allowing bathroom access only in accordance with one's biological sex. 

A Gallup poll last year found that more Americans (51%) believe governing policies should require trans-identified individuals to “use the restroom that corresponds with their birth gender.” However, other federal courts have ruled in favor of trans students.

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