Weeks after students at a South Los Angeles High School campaigned their way to becoming the first school in their district to open a gender-neutral bathroom, a new White House directive says public schools must accommodate transgender students.
The directive, issued by the the Obama administration on Friday, mandates public schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
In April, students clashed with protesters at LAUSD's Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles who rallied outside the campus to protest the recent opening of a gender-neutral bathroom on the campus.
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The school that month dedicated a 15-stall gender-neutral bathroom, making it the first Los Angeles-area school to have such a facility. The bathroom was the result of a campaign by the school's Gay Straight Alliance, which collected hundreds of petition signatures in support of the idea.
"I think that Santee is going to be looked at as a model for how to move forward in different public spaces especially in high schools across the country," said Santee's Gay Straight Alliance Advisor Jose Lara.
Alonzo Hernandez, one of the students who campaigned for the restrooms, watched his effort grow into a national debate.
"I've been here since freshman year... I was a girl and now that I'm transitioning it's like, where do I go?," Hernandez said.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials threw their support behind the directive, which comes amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina.
The guidance, issued jointly by the U.S. departments of Education and Justice, states that transgender students are protected under Title IX, which prohibits K-12 districts, colleges and universities that receive federal dollars from discriminating against students based on sex.
"We applaud President Obama's guidance that public school districts allow transgender students to attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex,'' LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King said in a statement.
"As the second-largest school district in the country, L.A. Unified has long been a leader in respecting the needs of all students and staff,'' she said.
King said the guidance is "yet another opportunity to help our students develop the values to contribute to an ever-changing society'' and LAUSD "remains committed to providing a safe learning environment for everyone, including transgender students, and ensuring that the entire L.A. Unified family has equal access to our educational programs and activities.''
The guidance letter states that schools must treat students according to the gender they identify with, upon being notified of the student's transgender status.
This includes allowing students to take part in sex- segregated activities or use bathrooms and other facilities that match the student's chosen gender identity.
Schools are also obligated to respond quickly and effectively when dealing with harassment against transgender students, and to protect the privacy of students on issues related to their transgender status.