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Youths in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community face serious obstacles to safety and acceptance as a result of the anti-LGBT bias they experience at home, in schools and in their communities. Two particularly underserved and misunderstood segments of this community are gender-variant or gender non-conforming youths and transgender youths. Recent media attention on tragic incidents of suicide and violence against transgender and gender non-conforming youths has highlighted the vulnerability of these youths and the desperate need for the legal and educational systems to support them. Transgender and gender non-conforming youths face numerous struggles in school, including peer harassment and restrictions on their gender expression. According to the 2007 Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network School Climate Survey, approximately one-half of students reported verbal harassment and more than a quarter reported physical harassment based on their gender expression. School officials are often uneducated about these youths and unwilling to accommodate a student’s gender identity. Increasingly, with the assistance of legal advocates, advocacy organizations and supportive parents of transgender and gender-variant youths, schools are more appropriately addressing issues of preferred name and pronoun usage, safe access to bathroom facilities and dress code requirements for these students. Society’s deeply rooted notions of a biologically based gender binary system pervade all aspects of our daily life, categorizing each newborn from the very first moment: Is it a boy or a girl? Not only does this question ignore the reality that approximately one in 2,000 babies is born with intersex conditions, but it reinforces the idea that gender is the defining characteristic of a child’s life. With that initial gender marker comes a set of stereotyped beliefs of acceptable and appropriate behaviors. Youths who fail to conform to these gender stereotypes or who express a gender identity contrary to their biological sex often face significant harassment and discrimination. Like our society, our laws are often biased against gender-variant individuals. As more students publicly express their gender in non-stereotypical ways, schools and other organizations need legal guidance on how best to support and serve these young people. Unfortunately, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are not protected under the state’s Fair Educational Opportunities Act. Furthermore, Pennsylvania still lacks a statewide law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations � including schools � on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Equality Advocates launched the Youth Law Project in September 2007 to confront the effects of anti-LGBT bias on children and youths in Pennsylvania. The project provides direct legal services, advocacy, education and outreach to both LGBT youths and children raised in LGBT-headed families. Support is offered to gender non-conforming and transgender youths in a host of contexts, including advising parents whose gender-variant children are facing discrimination and mistreatment in school and representing transgender youths in the foster care system to ensure that their health care, social service and placement needs are met. Some examples of transgender and gender non-conforming youths who have been assisted by the Youth Law Project include: • A transgender young woman in foster care who felt unsafe in her placement. Equality Advocates has worked to identify a safe and LGBT-friendly placement for her. • A high school student who was repeatedly physically threatened by other students at his school because of his failure to adopt a stereotypically masculine appearance and attitude. Equality Advocates educated the school administration about its responsibilities under the law and the school agreed to conduct LGBT education and training of its faculty and student body. • A young lesbian who stopped attending school as a result of years of harassment she faced because she did not express her gender in accordance with female norms. Equality Advocates is helping her explore alternative school settings where she will be safe and able to graduate from high school. In addition to assisting gender-variant and transgender youths, the Youth Law Project advocates on behalf of youths who face discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and youths being raised in LGBT-headed families. Beyond direct representation, the project also provides legal education to community-based LGBT youth groups throughout the state. These workshops educate youths about their legal rights and options if they are facing anti-LGBT harassment or discrimination. Equality Advocates is dedicated to fighting discrimination and harassment against LGBT and gender non-conforming youths and their families through public education, individual advocacy and policy reform. If you are an attorney specializing in education or youth issues and you would like to know more about laws affecting LGBT youths, or if you are interested in providing pro bono assistance, please feel free to contact Youth Law Project attorney Katie Stewart at [email protected]. Katie Stewart is the Youth Law Project attorney at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania. Her work is funded by the law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, through its public interest fellowship program.

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