In the past few months, Howard County officials have been developing new guidelines to better fit the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students. These guidelines include topics such as gender-segregated sports, dress codes, and bathroom use, among other things.
These guidelines are considered new, despite the anti-discrimination policies that have been around for years. Policy 1010 protects students from discrimination regardless of their race, age, immigration status, sex, gender identity and expression, marital status, genetic information, and veteran or socioeconomic status within Howard County’s education program. Policy 1020 supports gender and sexual discrimination within schools.
Kevin Gilbert, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, wrote to school administrators on Oct. 8, 2018.
He stated that, “All HCPSS students should feel comfortable expressing their gender identity,” and that the guidelines are “intended to support staff’s understanding of important terms and concepts, describe the process for masking name and/or gender, and suggest ways to address issues of student gender identity in a manner that fosters inclusiveness.”
As of right now, all 12 high schools in Howard County have a GSA club, which aims to include people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Michael Martirano, the Howard County school superintendent, tells the Baltimore Sun, “When we are talking about transgender students and staff members it falls in the same category of anti-discrimination. If someone is discriminated against it is my job to protect them.”
Despite Dr. Martirano’s stance on the topic, approximately 82% of Maryland students reported that they hear homophobic remarks regularly, and 70% reported hearing transphobic remarks.
Mt. Hebron senior Charlie Koepke, an openly transgender student, commented on the implementation of the policy.
“I think it’s good. It’s sort of just treating us like any other person, its giving us more rights, you know? If someone doesn’t have rights it’s kind of like they are not a person, and I’m a person just like everyone else. I just have a different experience.”
Koepke further elaborated on what changes he personally thinks are necessary for the safety and comfort of transgender students.
“Right now, we have a one-person stall bathroom sort of thing, and it has a key and everything because technically it’s a second teacher bathroom but students can use it… if i wanna go to the bathroom and I’m upstairs, I have to go downstairs. It’s kind of difficult. Also, I just kind of wish I could go to like the bathroom that I feel most comfortable with without feeling like I’m gonna get attacked or anything. It’s kind of scary.”
Mt. Hebron has had several transgender students in the past in addition to Koepke, making the school community fairly familiar with the process of accommodating for the needs of these students.
“I don’t think I’ve faced any discrimination at Mt. Hebron. Every once in a while someone messes up on the pronouns or the name,” Koepke comments.
“It doesn’t really offend me or anything. I think if someone says something kind of ignorant or they don’t think before they say, if you just kindly correct them instead of coming out and saying ‘wow that’s so rude, you’re transphobic,’ it would solve a lot more problems than just ranting at someone.”
With the implementation of this new policy and the openness of students like Koepke, transgender students will have more opportunities to be treated with equality. Despite the challenges many transgender students seem to face, Howard County public schools continue to grow in their mindfulness of these challenges and work to better the experiences for these students.