What was the problem?

Northern Essex Community College, and other community colleges in the Massachusetts system, had a bathroom and locker room policy that prevented many transgender men from using the men’s restrooms and many transgender women from using the women’s restroom. The policy limited student access to facilities based on the student’s records. Since the standard for revising the gender marker in student records could not be met by some transgender students, the standard created a barrier for many students to use shared facilities.

Massachusetts has fifteen community colleges, and they offer open access to affordable academic programs aimed at preparing individuals for the workforce, college-level study and lifelong learning. It is critical that these community institutions are inclusive to all.

Why does it matter?

The discriminatory facilities policy harmed transgender students in many ways, most notably by limiting their use of school facilities and creating harmful and stigmatizing barriers. An educational environment must include all students, and this policy sent a clear message to the college community that transgender students are different than others and not worthy of respect and inclusion.

Did this policy violate the law?

Yes. NECC’s facilities policy violated the Commonwealth’s public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in “any place…which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” Because NECC receives federal funding, the policy also violated Title IX, which provides that “no person…shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal assistance.”

What is the new policy?

Transgender students are now permitted to use restrooms throughout Massachusetts community college campuses based on their gender identity.

How did this issue arise?

Colby Patrie, a transgender student at NECC and also President of NECC’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, reached out to GLAD after meeting with school administrators about his experience on campus trying to access the correct bathroom and make it to class on time, and to feel safe doing so. Colby was also able to share data he gathered from the LGBTQ community at NECC. His advocacy was key to the change at NECC.

What about student records?

Although GLAD got involved because of the discriminatory facilities policy, we also raised concerns about the student records policy, which allowed transgender students to use their chosen names and gender in college records only by providing the school with a certified court order reflecting a legal name change or a legal change of gender.

What is the student records policy now?

The school will now update internal college records to reflect a student’s chosen name and will update a gender marker with legal identification (i.e. driver’s license, passport, social security card) showing a gender change or a court order. These records policies should enable students to update their student records with ease, but if you encounter any barriers in a community college, please contact GLAD at GLAD Answers. We want to hear from you.

What if I need legal assistance to update my name or gender marker on my state or federal documents?

Transgender people living in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont) seeking to update their legal name and gender on federal and state documents can receive free legal representation through the GLAD Pop Up ID project, a rapid-response program in collaboration with Ropes & Gray and MTPC.