Vainieri Huttle & Caride Bill to Create Safe & Welcoming School Environment for Trans Students in NJ Heads to Governor’s Desk

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic) to help create a safe, inclusive and accepting school environment for transgender students received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.  

According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of trans people attempted suicide in their lifetimes, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population.

Fifty-nine percent of survey responders said they avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems, and about one-third said they limited the amount that they ate and drank to avoid using a restroom.

“Trans children are harassed and bullied for daring to be themselves. This has to stop,” said Vainieri Huttle. “These guidelines are needed to ensure that transgender students can safely be themselves without fear of being persecuted, and can help promote a culture of understanding and acceptance that will hopefully influence how students treat each other in and outside of school.”

“Schools need to set the right tone. If we cultivate intolerance, children will pick up on that and think it is okay to bully others who are deemed different,” said Caride. “No one deserves to be mistreated because of who they are. These guidelines send a clear message to transgender children that we support them, and that discrimination and harassment of any form will not be tolerated.”

The bill (A-4652) would require the Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines for school districts regarding transgender students.

The guidelines are intended to provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students.

Under the bill, the guidelines are required to include information and guidance regarding the following: (1) definitions of terms relevant to an understanding of transgender issues; (2) maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment; (3) confidentiality and privacy concerns regarding a student’s transgender or transitioning status; (4) procedures for the maintenance of official school records; (5) use of the name and pronoun that corresponds to a student’s gender identity; (6) issuance of school documentation such as student ID’s in the name that corresponds to a student’s gender identity, and allowing transgender students to dress in accordance with their gender identity; (7) equal opportunities for participation in physical education; (8) participation in gender-segregated school activities in accordance with a student’s gender identity; (9) the use of restrooms and locker rooms; (10) ensuring that school counselors are knowledgeable regarding issues and concerns relevant to transgender students; and (11) permitting and supporting the formation of student clubs or programs regarding issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.  In addition, the guidelines must include information on organizations or other resources available to students and parents that provide support to transgender individuals.

Under the bill, the commissioner would have to periodically review the guidelines and update or modify them, as appropriate, in accordance with current state or federal laws and regulations concerning the rights of transgender students.

Lastly, the bill would require the commissioner to provide school districts with guidance and resources regarding: (1) providing professional development opportunities to teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, bus drivers, coaches, and other school staff regarding issues and concerns relevant to LGBTQ students; and (2) making developmentally appropriate information about LGBTQ issues available in school facilities, which may include providing pamphlets or books in school libraries, counseling offices, and nurse’s offices.

The bill was approved 59-15-3 by the Assembly, and 25-10 by the Senate on June 19.