Transgender students in Georgia facing bullying and discrimination have a new tool to turn to as the school year begins, thanks to five LGBT and progressive organizations.
The Georgia Trans Student Rights Watch – announced this week by Lambda Legal, Georgia Equality, Anti-Defamation League, Georgia Safe Schools Coalition and GLSEN Atlanta – comes as transgender students are facing increased attention and scorn from conservatives in the state. The online tool allows trans and gender nonconforming students to report on their experiences in school and seek help.
“We’re trying to be proactive in protecting the students here," said Simone Bell (photo), a lesbian former state lawmaker who is now the Southern Regional Director for Lambda Legal's office in Atlanta.
“We felt it was necessary to start the process of trying to gather information so that we could provide help and assistance to parents and to students,” Bell added.
The online resource comes as Lambda has seen "a flurry of backlash" in Georgia since May, Bell said. That's when the Obama administration released new guidelines detailing expectations that schools will respect the right of transgender students. The guidelines also call for schools to allow trans students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
School districts across the state – including Fannin, Gwinnett and Hall counties – have refused to follow the guidelines, while conservative lawmakers decried them as federal overreach. Georgia even joined 10 other states in a lawsuit challenging the new guidelines. John Horn, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, addressed the topic during a roundtable discussion with LGBT activists and groups in late July.
Yet transgender students have described the difficulties – and sometimes physical abuse – they face in Georgia schools. Xavier Eaton, a recent graduate of Fannin County High School, told Project Q Atlanta in June that he faced physical and verbal abuse from classmates.
“I would get comments everyday about, ‘look at that dyke,’ or ‘what a faggot,’ or you know, plenty of stares when you go into the bathroom," Eaton said.
He added that trips to the restroom inevitably came with, “can you believe that that came into our bathroom?”
In May, Eaton faced down a hostile crowd of hundreds of Fannin County residents who crowded a school board meeting to speak out against the new federal guidelines. Eaton also shared with the crowd stories of being beaten regularly by other students and offered support to other transgender students in Fannin.
Now, Eaton and other trans and gender nonconforming students have a new tool they can use to help document and fight against this kind of bullying, discrimination, and harassment. The effort from Lambda and the other groups also allows LGBT groups to monitor discrimination and take action against it. The coalition of groups issued a joint statement about the project on Monday:
"Our schools’ first job is to provide safe and affirming environments for all our youth to learn and thrive. From the use of declared names and pronouns, to restrooms, locker rooms, sports, uniforms, and extracurricular activities, school districts should respect the gender identity of all students, including transgender students. No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus.
“If you are a transgender student and you are being denied access to facilities at school, we want to hear from you. If you are being forced to use a separate restroom or changing area away from your peers because of who you are, we want to hear from you. If you are the parent of a transgender or gender nonconforming student, and your child has not been treated fairly or equally, we want to hear from you. Separating transgender students from other students by forcing them to use separate restroom and locker room spaces is demeaning and can be emotionally damaging. It also violates the law. We stand ready to speak with students, their families, and the school district about the law and rights of transgender students.”
The information provided will go straight to Lambda Legal’s attorneys, allowing them to directly contact students if their rights have been violated. Additionally, trans and gender nonconforming students, in elementary school to college, can access Lambda's online resources, designed to help them understand and navigate their rights.