Everyone deserves to receive an education free from harassment, discrimination and violence. Yet these problems commonly plague transgender students pursuing a university degree, sometimes even before they set foot on campus.
It all starts with the application. Transgender students’ applications can be subject to extra scrutiny, especially at single-sex or religiously affiliated institutions. Transgender students are often denied admission altogether when the institutions fail to have systems in place that recognize students’ identity, particularly non-binary identities.
For transgender students who are admitted, campuses routinely fail to affirm their identities and deny them appropriate housing, restrooms and locker rooms. Changing the legal name and gender marker on one’s student ID card, class rosters, transcript, diploma and other educational records is unnecessarily complex and time-consuming at some institutions—and expressly prohibited on most campuses.
The effect of such policies is to block equal access to education. All this persists amid a general climate of hostility. Nineteen percent of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey who identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming (TGNC) while in higher education were refused gender-appropriate housing, and 5% were refused campus housing altogether.
Some of that mistreatment comes from the very campus security officers appointed to protect students. In a 2012 Lambda Legal survey, Protected and Served?, 20% of TGNC respondents ages 18-24 described the attitude of campus security officers toward them as “hostile.”
These obstacles add up, often to the point where transgender students feel unable to complete their education. In the survey 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People, more than a third of TGNC students said that they seriously considered leaving their institution because of the challenging climate. While some campuses have become safer and more welcoming for transgender students, it can’t be said that they enjoy equal educational opportunities.
This section is intended to inform transgender students of their rights on campus and to show what advocates are doing to help make colleges and universities more affirming of, and welcoming to, transgender students. It is also designed to help students navigate campus challenges and advocate for better policies. If you or someone you know has experienced assault, discrimination, forced isolation or denial of health care while in detention of any kind, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at www.lambdalegal.org/help.