This week, the Michigan Board of Education voted 6-2 to adopt guidelines to protect LGBTQ students. The controversial move took place after roughly 60 people spent several hours passionately debating for the change.
Many of the public speakers cried, hugged, and took pictures after the meeting. Riley O'Brien, a transgender senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, said he was excited about the decision.
Another 12th-grade student, Mack Rasmussen, who attends Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, said he felt validated, reports Lori Higgens of the Detroit Free Press.
The debate included proponents who argued that the new guidelines would keep students from being bullied and would even save lives. But the board also heard from opponents who asserted that the guidelines were an "illegal interpretation of federal law" and do not support the beliefs of many residents of the state.
The two oppositional votes were made by Republicans Eileen Weiser of Ann Arbor and Richard Zelle of Dearborn.
"No paper is going to change hearts, minds and practices in schools," said Weiser, who has expressed concerned about statistics showing that bullying is a widespread problem in Michigan schools for all students, not just LGBTQ students.
The policy was created in March, revised in August, and included instructions concerning the use of restrooms, staff training to handle issues facing LGBTQ students, and support for clubs and alliances designed for these students. The new rules also include encouragement for educators to refer to the young person's name of choice and support his or her gender identity preference when at school.
Critics of the guidelines say that many of the directives leave students' parents "out of the equation." But, included in the instructions is the clear statement that parents' involvement is critical, and the inclusion of parents must be balanced with the safety of the kids.
Mari Brighe, writing for the Advocate, reports that Emily Dievendorf, interim president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights and former executive director of Equality Michigan, said:
"We endured hours of the same vile hate speech today that we have in past meetings of the Michigan State Board of Education, and from a multitude of speakers claiming to represent faith, love, and acceptance. It was painful for the LGBTQ in attendance, many of whom were youth, and those allies who came to support us."
Equality Michigan Executive Director Stephanie White praised the Michigan Board of Education for putting the needs and wellbeing of the state's pupils before anything else.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is part of a 20-state group of officials currently suing the Obama administration over US Department of Education interpretations of the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education and recommends that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity, known as Title IX.
The Associated Press' David Eggert reports that the Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jack Roberts said this week that the MHSAA rules do not allow boys to join girls' teams in state tournaments. Therefore, said Roberts, the association will make eligibility determinations "on a fact-driven, case-by-case basis."
"The intent is to provide as much opportunity as possible for transgender students without reducing overall opportunities for females in competitive athletics," Roberts said.
The approval of the guidelines does not mean that schools will be forced to follow the recommendations. However, the result of the referendum is that all students will be given the right to learn no matter their name, gender, or their choice of a bathroom.
A recent study, according to Alexandra Ilitch of WLNS-TV, found that Michigan was the worst state in the union for bullying. President Obama and the Michigan Board of Education have stated they want to change this statistic.