Howard County school leaders are discussing how to add more protections to transgender students in the district’s discrimination policy, spurred in part by the advocacy of a mother of a student born as a boy but who identifies as a girl.
Discussions over how to navigate transgender issues in the schools follow the debates that have recently occurred in several counties in Maryland.
The Howard County school district currently extends gender identity protections in its bullying policies. That language will “probably be added” to the district’s discrimination policy, which currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, physical or mental disability, age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation in its educational programs and in the workplace, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
She said she is unsure of the timeline.
“We work with harassment and discrimination on a daily basis, so you need to be looking at all of the situations that can arise, and try to address all the concerns up front,” Caplan said.
In 2008, the last time the discrimination policy was updated, gender identity was not discussed, she said.
“There’s more awareness [now] of gender identity issues,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re staying current.”
Caplan said Lisa Boarman, the coordinator of school counseling, is leading discussions on transgender student protections, working with Linda Wise, the schools’ chief academic officer, and general counsel Mark Blom, among other school administration officials.
The district leaders are in the midst of discussing how new protections for transgender students could translate to restroom usage, among other issues, Caplan said.
District officials are also working on guidelines to help guidance counselors work with transgender youth, Caplan said.
It’s still unclear what entity has jurisdiction over rules regarding transgender students and sports.
Caplan referred questions about whether transgender students could join sports teams of their identified gender to Maryland athletic officials. Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association, referred questions back to Howard County schools, which he said was developing a policy.
Counties have also been tackling issues this year regarding transgender residents.
approved a bill that provides legal protection to transgender residents. The bill makes it illegal to engage in discriminatory practices against transgender individuals with regard to housing, employment and accommodations. Montgomery County adopted a similar measure. Baltimore County became the latest, passing such a measure this month in a split vote.
The county protections do not extend to students in school. Howard County schools do not come under county government jurisdiction, said C. Vernon Gray, administrator at the Howard County Office of Human Rights.
Howard County is unique regionally in its discussion to add gender identity protections to its school discrimination policy. School officials said they were unaware of discussions of that nature going on in either Baltimore or Carroll counties. Montgomery County also does not include gender identity in the discrimination portion of its human relations policy.
Caplan said Howard County school discussions were spurred in part by the advocacy work of Catherine Hyde, whose daughter, Will Gullucci, was a transgender student at Marriotts Ridge High School.
“I think she has really helped to increase our awareness of some of the issues that are faced by transgender people in general to make sure it’s on our radar,” Caplan said of Hyde.
Hyde, of Woodstock, made headlines last year when her daughter, who had come out as a transgender person leading the life of a girl, complained about a police training video shown to students on teenage drunken driving. The video included an unnecessary photo of a man dressed as a woman, Gallucci said at the time.
Hyde then complained to the Howard County police department, eventually leading to the incorporation of transgender issues into the department's training, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Hyde also that was passed in Howard County.
Hyde, who is also the transgender coordinator for the PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in Columbia and Howard County, said there is too much focus on bathrooms in discussions on transgender protections.
“It’s not the big deal we think it is,” she said. “We get pathologically focused on body parts. … We’re scared boys are going in the girls bathroom. My child is not a boy; my child is a girl. She passes. If I sent her to a boy’s bathroom, she’d be at such a high risk, it would be a ridiculous.”
Her daughter, Gullucci, who has kept her birth name, is currently a freshman at Towson University, Hyde said.
Opponents of bills aimed at outlawing discrimination against transgender individuals have raised concerns about the safety of women and children who could be preyed upon in public restrooms by a predator posing as a transgendered person.
"If you make a law, then people will want to misuse the benefits of it," said . "It's not the transgendered issue I'm worried about, it's everybody else."
Baltimore County council members dealt with the bathroom concerns this way: used in similar laws in Howard and Montgomery counties that protects businesses from discrimination lawsuits for setting their own rules governing "facilities that are distinctly private and personal."
In Howard County, Hyde applauded school administrators for their commitment to students.
“I also know it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said of transgender protection policies. “They also have to have their ducks in a row; they have to get on the same page themselves. In the meantime, I know they are committed to keeping these kids safe.”