Community colleges offer open access to affordable academic and workforce training programs. It is critical that these community institutions are inclusive to all, including transgender students.

GLAD first learned about barriers faced by transgender students at Northern Essex Community College (NECC) in Massachusetts from Colby Patrie, who is studying art at the school.

The school did not allow students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity – and with no gender-neutral bathrooms on the classroom side of campus, students often had to choose between going to the bathroom and going to class.Their other option was using a bathroom where they felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

“The facilities policy caused confusion, fear, and shame on campus,” says Colby. “I really felt it needed to change, both to eliminate the inconvenience, and to let transgender students know that the school respects and values us.”

GLAD worked with Colby to secure a change in this policy, bringing NECC in line with state and federal law, and creating a more inclusive educational environment for transgender students. GLAD’s demand letter to NECC read in part, “NECC’s current policy is out of step with virtually every other entity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts…[including] elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, employers, landlords…hospitals, gyms, homeless shelters and swimming pools.”

Another policy of the college required that transgender students could only use their chosen names and gender in college records by providing the school with a certified court order reflecting a legal name change or a legal change of gender, also in violation of state and federal law. Since GLAD’s intervention, the school has agreed to the use of chosen names in school records.

“NECC’s discriminatory policy was far out of step with other public institutions in Massachusetts, particularly educational institutions, and violated state public accommodations law and federal law,” says GLAD attorney Polly Crozier. “We’re happy with the new facilities policy, and with the steps the school has made toward a better policy on biographical data. We will continue to advocate with them on that issue so that NECC can provide a truly supportive learning environment for all its students.”