Hawaii Governor Signs Bill Banning Discrimination Against LGBTQ Students

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a groundbreaking bill on Friday prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ students in schools.

Passed by the Hawaii Legislature in May, House Bill 1489 bans “discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation” in Hawaii schools. These protections cover “any state educational program or activity, or in any educational program or activity that receives state financial assistance,” which includes team sports or after-school programs.

In doing so, the legislation establishes state-specific protections for queer and trans students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Although LGBTQ students aren’t specifically mentioned in the decades-old civil rights bill, the Department of Education announced in 2014 it would henceforth interpret the definition of “sex” under Title IX to include the category of “gender identity,” as well as the “failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

But a year after President Obama issued guidance to schools to treat transgender youth in accordance with their gender identity, the Trump administration rolled back the previous White House’s definition of Title IX.

Earlier this year, Trump’s Department of Education claimed it would no longer investigate discrimination complaints filed by trans students.

Supporters of HB 1489 applauded Hawaii for breaking with the federal government to protect students who face disproportionate rates of bullying from their peers and even lack of support from teachers. Even as young people express historic support for LGBTQ rights, GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey found that 56 percent of queer and trans students had experienced discrimination in schools.

Both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly approved the bill earlier this year, with just one lawmaker voting against the proposal. When the legislature approved the proposal in May, State Sen. Jill Tokuda claimed the bill was “huge step” toward equality for LGBTQ youth in Hawaii.

“The bill has gone largely unnoticed this session,” claimed the 24th District Democrat, in comments first reported by Civil Beat. “People haven’t really realized what we’ve done, but this is going to go very far in terms of protecting our kids.”

Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director for the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, called the bill a “historic victory for women and LGBTQ students.”

National LGBTQ advocacy groups also hailed the legislation’s passage.

“No student should ever be treated differently simply for being who they are,” said Sarah Munshi, state and district policy manager for GLSEN, in a statement. “Unfortunately, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression is commonplace in schools all across the United States.”

HB 1489 underwent a series of changes prior to its passage.

An earlier draft of the legislation gave the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission the power to adjudicate student complaints of discrimination and issue right-to-sue letters on behalf of students who wish to take legal action against their schools.

Although the bill won’t take effect until 2020, it’s one of a number of progressive moves by the Aloha State in recent months. In April, Hawaii became the 12th state to ban conversion therapy after Gov. Ige signed a bill prohibiting the discredited “gay cure” treatment (which has been likened to torture) from being offered to minors.

Last week, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld a discrimination case in which a lesbian couple was turned away by a bed and breakfast after the owner cited their religious beliefs.

Image via Getty

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