MEDFORD (CBS) – Schools across Massachusetts are facing new guidelines regarding students and gender identity. “I had all of these problems and everyone kept telling me that they couldn’t help me,” said Logan Ferarro, now on staff at BAGLY, Inc., The Boston Alliance of Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Youth. Logan transitioned from female to male as a senior in High School in Wilmington.
“It ended up being harder than it was because they had no idea what to prepare for they had no idea what was coming,” said Logan. “They had no idea what even transgender was.”
Last summer, Logan and other supporters applauded a change in state law which added nondiscrimination in schools based on gender identity. That led to a recent memo from Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester offering guidance on what the changes mean. In it, schools are required to accept the gender a student recognizes as their own including bathroom and locker room access.
“We wanted to come up with something that would best address their needs and their safety needs and affirming their identities,” said Grace Sterling Stowell, BAGLY, Inc.’s Executive Director and a transgender woman. She attended meetings on the changes last year. “It is important to make sure that the message here is that we are trying to do what’s best for transgendered students who themselves are the most unsafe and the ones who are most at risk,” she said.
“I think there is a big difference between safety and comfort and safety needs to be the priority,” she said of people who might be uncomfortable with a male student who identifies as a female using the female restroom.
In Medford, School Committee members received an update on implementation at Monday night’s meeting. “We want to provide equal access to every student,” Superintendent Roy Belson told WBZ. “We want to make sure that every student is comfortable and right now after our preliminary discussions we believe we can do that.”
Medford is looking to change some restrooms to unisex and possibly convert storage space at Medford High School into an additional locker or changing room. Staff will get training and leaders continue consulting with members of the school’s gay/straight alliance.
“I got a reasonable good amount of phone calls pro and con,” said Medford City Councilor Robert Penta, after he brought up concerns over the changes at last week’s City Council meeting. He thinks the guidelines are a misrepresentation of state law and will once again address the issue at a meeting Tuesday night.
“If you follow the legislative directive, if you follow the law and if you follow the directive now that Mr. Chester has put out there, they’re not one in the same and that’s the problem,”said Penta. “That’s the problem that I have, the lack of consistency and more importantly I think there is an abuse of the process.” Penta says he plans to reach out to Commissioner Chester and voice his concerns, including questions over parental notification.
In the meantime, Logan Ferarro and BAGLY hope schools will reach out to them if they need guidance. “The problems this could cause are so minute compared to the unimaginable good that this could give to our youth,” Ferarro said.
To read the memo from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education CLICK HERE.