Legislators, PA Coalition for Trans Youth, TAKE, NEPA Stands Up rally for safe and equal schools

HARRISBURG, Oct. 17 – State Reps. Joe Hohenstein, D-Phila.; Nancy Guenst, D-Montgomery; Paul Takac, D-Centre; Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster; Tarik Khan, D-Phila.; the PA Coalition for Trans Youth; Transgender Advocates Knowledgeable Empowering; NEPA Stands Up and allies held a rally for safe and equal schools on the state Capitol steps in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

Speakers highlighted a package of bills that would protect students from gender-based discrimination, bullying and harassment, and provide inclusive accommodations and curriculum.

The package includes:

  • Legislation introduced by Guenst that would create a statewide policy for all public schools to prohibit student discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through anti-discrimination and harassment prevention and early intervention policies to create a supportive and equal opportunity learning environment.

“Our children deserve to step into their learning environments across the commonwealth feeling safe and respected. No child should be made to feel less than their peers due to the real or perceived distinction of belonging to classes that do not currently hold statewide protections,” Guenst said. “This legislation would bridge the gaps currently being filled by individual school districts through policies that cover a wide spectrum; all the way from supportive and equal, to outright harmful and discriminatory. We have the power, and responsibility, to stand up for all of our students and say that hate has no home here in Pennsylvania.”

  • Legislation introduced by Smith-Wade-El that would provide for inclusive school bathrooms and locker rooms by requiring that new construction and renovations of school buildings have a universal construction design for restrooms and locker rooms that provide at least one gender neutral restroom for every three school restrooms and ensure that students can use the restroom and locker rooms/athletic facilities that align with their gender identity and allowing students to participate in athletic programs based on their consistently asserted gender identity and use the school facilities and be treated consistently with that identity. 

“Every child in the commonwealth should have access to an education that meets their educational needs and recognizes their humanity. Adequate funding for our public education system will not only improve the quality of our school buildings and help us attract and retain high-quality educators, but it will also achieve the overarching goal of ensuring a more level playing field for children in our state who far too often do not get a fair chance at life simply because of the neighborhood they reside in,” Smith-Wade-El said. “As the son of an educator, I believe every child deserves access to a fully funded public school experience.”  

  • Legislation introduced by Hohenstein that would ensure inclusive school curriculum and the representation of all student identities by requiring age-appropriate curriculum for K-12 students on the experiences, perspectives, and social, political and economic contributions of LGBTQ individuals.

“School should be an inclusive place where every student has an opportunity to learn and grown in their academic endeavors without fear of harassment or discrimination due to their gender identity or expression. Not only that, but curriculum should be inclusive, too, as LGBTQ individuals have, and continue to, contribute great things socially, economically and politically to the world, and learning about their contributions can have the effect of lessening gender identity-based discrimination and bullying,” Hohenstein said. “Pennsylvania, and we as legislators, must do better and do more to ensure that no student endures discrimination of any kind.”

  • Legislation introduced by Takac that would ensure every school district has a clear policy for trans and non-binary students by extending schools’ anti-bullying and retaliation policies to these individuals, establish best practices for student and family support during a student’s transitioning period, respect a student’s privacy and include students’ preferred identity and pronouns.

“It is crucial that school districts support all their students and foster a learning environment free from bullying, discrimination and intolerance. And when it comes to the need to support transgender and non-binary students, the question is not if that need will arise, but when. Transgender and non-binary youth are six times more likely than their cis-gendered peers to experience bullying, abuse and violence and nearly half have seriously considered suicide in the past year,” Takac said. “Many schools do an outstanding job of supporting transgender students and their families, but that support should not depend on one’s ZIP code. Every student deserves to feel safe and supported in school.”

“As a legislator and family nurse practitioner, I am committed to ensuring that our youth feel safe, protected and included, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” Khan said. “These bills will move us closer to the promise of safe and equal schools for all children and youth across Pennsylvania.”