The LAUSD’s Chiasson, a former school counselor, was at the forefront of the effort. L.A. schools, she said, had followed practices similar to those outlined in the law since 2004, and that’s largely thanks to a young girl who was born a boy and who opened up to school officials about her parents refusal to accept her self-identification. “It was very difficult for the family until they had this epiphany that they had to stop talking and start listening,” recalled Chiasson. “All she wanted was to start school as a little girl. And I realized that [as] educators, our job is to make sure that your children feel welcome in our schools … She was really the one that I think made us stop talking and start listening.”
Even if “there were a loophole in [Title IX] and somebody felt that they could discriminate doesn’t mean they should. Education has always been at the forefront of social justice. That’s our calling; we have to do the right thing now,” Chiasson said. “We should be celebrating diversity beyond tolerance.”
Some advocates say that the athletics sector has made more progress in celebrating the kind of diversity Chiasson hopes will be extended to school campuses nationwide. The NCAA in 2011 clarified that transgender students can typically compete on teams of the sex with which they identify, depending on their hormone use; a handful of colleges have had transgender athletes play on their teams, including George Washington University, Bates College, and Harvard. And an increasing number of states—whose high-school sports programs, both public and private, are typically overseen by statewide leagues—are passing policies that allow transgender students to participate on the teams they choose.
According to Helen Carroll, who oversees the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, only five states have policies that completely exclude high-school transgender athletes, while 16 (including D.C.) are “totally inclusive.” Another 17 states, according to Carroll, who formerly served as the athletic director for the NCAA, don’t have any policies.
Carroll says that fears surrounding transgender girls’ sports participation are misplaced. “What we’ve seen [in the states with gender-inclusive policies] is that transgender [girl] athletes fall right in the middle of the spectrum of girls’ athletic skill levels,” she said. Advocates point out that many of these girls are on hormone blockers and never go through male puberty, meaning they don’t develop the physical qualities that might give a man a competitive edge athletically. And even so, they say, making such a distinction is murky on principle: If a female naturally has higher testosterone levels than another female, does that mean she shouldn’t compete?
Shifts are happening in other education realms, too. The University of Louisville’s medical school recently announced the launch of a project aimed at providing training in transgender health-care for physicians. Last month—the same week Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair—Barnard announced that it will admit transgender women, joining all of the other Seven Sister schools that had already committed to doing so. And now, a growing body of authors are writing children’s literature centered on transgender characters, “hoping,” as The New York Times reported last month, “to fill the void they felt as young readers.” The Times spoke with a young-adult novelist, Carolyn Mackler, who gave her 10-year-old son a copy of George—a forthcoming middle-school novel from Scholastic about a boy who identifies as a girl but struggles with how to tell his family and friends.
“I said, ‘If you met George, would you be friends with him?’” Mackler told The Times, recalling what her son said after she asked him what he thought about the story. “And he said, ‘Mom, it’s her, and I would be friends with her if she was nice.’”