Transgender rights activists ask for bathroom policy

- Dozens of protestors rallied outside the Sarasota County School Board Tuesday, hoping to convince board members to write a policy that would allow transgender students to choose which bathroom they want to use.

The group of LGBT rights activists have gathered during at least two other board meetings, but protestors said this was the first time they lobbied by chanting slogans and holding signs.

"We're here to bring attention to the trans-rights issue in Sarasota County," said Nate Quinn, a senior at Pine View School who first brought attention to the issue several weeks ago.

The Sarasota County School District currently has no written policy regarding how transgender students should use bathrooms, but each school is able to handle cases individually. For example, Nate, who was born a girl but identifies as a boy, has been allowed to use the men's room at his school.

He and other activists, however, are urging board members to come up with a policy that covers the district.

"I think people see this as me trying to make a big deal of something that isn't a big deal," Nate said. "I would say equality is a big deal and we have to start with bathrooms."

School Board Chair Shirley Brown said she doesn't see a reason, at this point, for the board to put a policy on paper.

"We're trying to make accommodations as they come up. We can't go across the board. Our schools aren't all the same," she said before the meeting during which the issue was not on the agenda and was not addressed. "I've made it clear that I don't want any student to be discriminated against and I've not heard anything from any students that they've had anymore discriminations."

Some parents and religious groups have come out against the idea of allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. None, however, agreed to be interviewed Tuesday.

Brown said she's concerned, if the district creates an official policy, lawmakers will enact legislation that will restrict the rights of transgender students and, perhaps, draw the district into a lawsuit.

"I don't want to see that. I also wouldn't want to be the first one out there and then get sued," she said. "[Some activists] want it in writing. There's policies and there's procedures. It's in our procedures. It's not a written policy yet, but I think...we're making those accomoations."

Sarasota County Schools isn't the only district in Tampa Bay addressing issues that impact transgender students.

The Hillsborough County School Board wants to make sure transgender students are protected by the district's anti-harassment policy; board members proposed adding the words "gender expression."

"We have students -- a population of students -- that identify one or the other and we have students that are in transition. This covers those students," said Hillsborough County School Board Vice Chair Cindy Stuart.

The board will take public comment during its June meeting. If the policy is officially modified, it would read, in part, "The Board will vigorously enforce its prohibition against harassment based on sex, race, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political belief, marital status, handicapping condition, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, genetic information, or social or family background, and encourages those within the District community as well as third parties, who feel aggrieved to seek assistance to rectify the problems."

The Sarasota County School Board, meanwhile, has not indicated it has plans to address the bathroom issue.

Nate is hopeful that will change.

"I don't think you need to be afraid of this issue. We need to talk about it," he said.

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