When it comes to safeguarding transgender students, San Francisco public schools have been ahead of the curve for more than a decade.
So when the Obama administration announced Friday that public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and lockers consistent with their chosen gender identity, public school leaders in The City took it as a nod of encouragement that schools nationally will continue to mirror in the direction of California’s public schools.
In 2013, California became the first state in the United States to guarantee certain rights for transgender K-12 students in state law — nearly 10 years after San Francisco’s public schools adopted their own policy.
“The president is acknowledging the complexity of our children,” said Kevin Gogin, director of safety and wellness for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Student, Family and Community Support Department. “He wants to be sure our schools are not only providing quality education but also doing so in a safe and inclusive environment.”
In 2003, a San Francisco high school student who was transitioning prompted the district’s first-ever policy guaranteeing the rights of transgender students, Gogin said.
The district worked with the Human Rights Commission and Transgender Law Center to ensure transgender students “have access to facilities that would allow them to be successful in school,” he said.
That policy was updated in 2006 and again in 2013, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1266, which gives students the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-perception and regardless of their birth gender.
The directive issued Friday from leaders at the departments of Education and Justice says public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.
Because all public schools in The City already offer gender-neutral bathrooms, the SFUSD has been focusing on how to further such lessons into the classroom. There are nurses and social workers in schools who are trained to support transgender students, and the district provides consultation and technical assistance to families.
“We’re on the right track,” Gogin said in response to the federal directive. “We’re acknowledging that we have students in our schools that are transgender, we are listening to their voice and we are working to be sure they are safe and healthy and ready to learn.”
In fact, the district in recent weeks has discussed how to “consistently integrate” LGBT studies in the general curriculum of middle and high school social studies and language arts classes, Gogin said.
The district already provides inclusionary courses following a Board of Education resolution approved in 2010 to expand services for LGBT students. This year, the SFUSD offered its first on-site LGBT studies class at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts that could be expanded to one or two other high schools next school year.
The idea behind the new curriculum, which could be offered as early as the 2016-17 school year, is to incorporate LGBT studies similar to the class that was taught at Ruth Asawa, which planned to include basic terminology, identities and history of LGBT leaders, and the current portrayal of those who identify as LGBT.
“We don’t want to target just 20 kids in a high school,” Gogin explained of why the SFUSD is looking to offer the lessons elsewhere. “All of our students deserve the same education.”
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey and California Healthy Kids Survey, both conducted in 2011, 2013 and 2015, found that about 1 percent of middle schoolers (100 students) and 1 percent of high schoolers (150 students) in San Francisco identify as transgender.
Elementary school students don’t take those surveys, but the SFUSD offers guidance to students of that age who identify as transgender. This school year, Miraloma Elementary School became the first in The City to offer gender-neutral bathrooms to all first-grade students.
“Miraloma is a very inclusive school; we have all types of families and all types of students,” Sam Bass, the school’s principal, previously told the San Francisco Examiner. “Our community values inclusivity and making sure every person feels safe and welcome at school.”
Each of the bathrooms are used by one student at a time. Bass said the school planned to expand the practice of eliminating the breakdown of male and female restrooms to each grade in the coming years.
“Since we have also been more proactive in making it known that we are transgender friendly for our students, we’ve also had students come out even younger,” Gogin added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.