The Right to Choose

Equality Texas announces Trans Visible Project

Former+UTEP+student+Adriano+Perez+speaks+about+his+transition+and+how+Equality+Texas+is+an+important+support+system+for+the+transgender+community.+
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The Right to Choose

Former UTEP student Adriano Perez speaks about his transition and how Equality Texas is an important support system for the transgender community.

Former UTEP student Adriano Perez speaks about his transition and how Equality Texas is an important support system for the transgender community.

Angel Ulloa

Former UTEP student Adriano Perez speaks about his transition and how Equality Texas is an important support system for the transgender community.

Angel Ulloa

Angel Ulloa

Former UTEP student Adriano Perez speaks about his transition and how Equality Texas is an important support system for the transgender community.

Christian Vasquez, Staff Reporter

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Equality Texas, an advocacy group for equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans, held a press conference on Friday, June 3, in the office of Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez to announce their partnership with several El Paso leaders such as Rodriguez and County Judge Veronica Escobar.

Equality Texas also announced the TransVisible Project, which aims to introduce transgender Texans to communities in the state.

“(The goal is) to bring more awareness in the community, more education if you will, for the community at large about who is the transgender community,” Rodriguez said. “Who are these people who are our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones, our colleagues, our coworkers? What is it that El Paso needs to do to incorporate them into the fabric of this community?”

The initiative is in response to the Obama administration’s recent clarification of existing guidelines for Title IX, a sex discrimination law for students and employees of educational institutions. A letter was sent out by the Department of Education and Department of Justice to all public schools that receive federal funding describing their official position on gender identity as well as guidelines for schools to follow. The White House said that this was a response to an increase in questions relating to correct policy for students who identify as a different gender than on their birth certificate.

The event was a stark contrast to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s stance, which recently asked Texas schools not to follow the directive. He also asked Attorney General Paxton to investigate Fort Worth Independent School District for setting their own bathroom policies that include guidelines relating to gender identity.

The Ysleta Independent School District told News Channel 9 that they do not recognize transgender identity in relation to restroom facilities. Lou Weaver, the transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, said the statement from Ysleta ISD was a failure to protect the rights of transgender students.

“We are seeing bullying from other schools, not just other students, we are seeing bullying from faculty and staff as well,” Weaver said. “Telling a transgender student and telling everyone else they are different and they need to access different accommodations is not okay because we are not providing a safe learning environment for all of our students.”

The Title IX policies regarding gender identity say public education institutions that receive federal funds must relate to a student by the gender they identify with and not by the gender given on their birth certificate or other records. This applies to athletics, facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms, classrooms, overnight school trips, as well as making sure there are privacy and disclosure protections from unwarranted inquiries of personal information including their birth name or gender assigned at birth.

Some view the clarification of existing laws as a breach of power by the Obama administration as well as unconstitutional and violation of state and privacy rights.

Texas — along with 10 other states — filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration to repeal gender identity from Title IX. The lawsuit calls the directive a “massive social experiment.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is currently facing charges for security fraud, is leading the lawsuit and claims the guidelines cannot be changed without first going through Congress.

This is not the first time the DOE and DOJ used the term gender identity relating to Title IX. In 2013, under a resolution agreement, which is the opinion or will of a legislative body, regarding a complaint with the Arcadia school district in California, both departments recognized the district violated a young boy’s educational opportunities because he was transgender.

Human rights and advocacy groups denounced the lawsuit as transphobic and unscientific. In a press release responding to the lawsuit, Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said “This is a direct attack on hundreds of thousands of transgender students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and harassment, and their loved ones.”

If a school does not adhere to the guidelines, then they are in danger of losing federal funding. However, no consequences will occur while the issue is fought in the courts.

“The administration will not take action to withhold funding while this enforcement process is playing out in the courts,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in a press briefing on May 12.

Texas and Patrick are prepared to fight President Obama’s mandate even if that means losing federal funding.

“(We) will not be blackmailed by Obama’s 30 pieces of silver,” Patrick said at the 2016 Texas Republican Convention in Dallas. “(The) people of Texas and the Legislature will find a way to find as much of that money as we can if we are forced to.”

Patrick previously said he was willing to risk the $10 billion in federal aid Texas receives for education.

Adriano Perez, a UTEP alumni, shared some of his experiences while growing up transgender in El Paso at the Equality Texas press conference. He is also part of the photo project called “Gender Me Not” that shares the stories of transgender individuals in Texas.

Adriano said that his experience going to UTEP was largely positive when it came to his professors and advisors, but he did have trouble when he legally changed his name in 2014.  Parts of the UTEP system, such as blackboard and parking tickets, did not recognize the name change even when he graduated in 2016.

“The smallest thing in the world is to listen to somebody,” Perez said about how the students at UTEP can help foster a supportive community. “Listen to their story and listen to where they’re coming from and respect them in the ways that they ask you to be respectful.”

In an email UTEP officials said that “UTEP has had a longstanding policy prohibiting discrimination and sexual harassment based on gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.”

UTEP’s athletic programs follow the NCAA guidelines, which allow transgender students to participate in the team their gender identifies with as long as they are taking medication as part of their transition.

For more information on Equality Texas, visit equalitytexas.org.

Christian Vasquez may be reached at [email protected]

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