Transgender student wants focus on school, not bathrooms

Student, attorney react to Trump administration decision on bathroom issue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville transgender student told News4Jax he feels caught in the middle after the Trump administration lifted federal guidelines that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity.

The Wednesday decision is a reversal of an Obama-era directive issued in May. It will now be up to states and school districts to interpret whether federal sex discrimination law applies to gender identity.

Ryan Stalvey, a 16-year-old student at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, said it's upsetting to him that bathrooms are even an issue. Stalvey transitioned from a girl to a boy at age 14.

He said all he wants to do is get an education, and feel safe while he does it.

“You don't wake up one day and go, 'You know what, I think I'm going to ruin the rest of my life. I think I'm going to switch everything up,'” Stalvey said. “I want people to understand we're more than trans people.”

A letter sent to schools nationwide Wednesday by the Justice and Education departments said the earlier directive caused confusion and lawsuits over how it should be applied. The new letter said the guidance is lifted, but anti-bullying safeguards will not be affected.

Last year, a mother of four Duval County school students sued the district over the district’s policy of allowing students access to bathrooms based on their gender identity. The lawsuit was later transferred to federal court and was dismissed.

Although the Obama guidance was not legally binding, transgender rights advocates said it was necessary to protect students from discrimination. Opponents argued it was federal overreach.

"Teenagers do not need to use the opposite sex locker rooms or restrooms, putting over 99 percent of the student population in a situation they don't need to be in,” Ryan Santo posted on Facebook. “This was a good move."

Local attorney Jimmy Midyette, with the Coalition for Equality, said Title IX still gives students like Ryan the same rights as any other student.

“What has changed is that there is no longer guidance for schools on how to follow the law, so now schools are free to interpret the law, if they will, but the law itself hasn't changed,” Midyette said.

News4Jax contacted several of local school districts about their guidelines for transgender students and bathrooms but only heard back from Duval County, which said:

"We will continue to implement the practice of ensuring a safe learning environment for all students based on our board policies on gender identity, sexual orientation, discrimination, and equity. This practice of ensuring the safety and well-being of each child remained unchanged prior to and after both presidential administrations' interpretation of Title IX."