genderpac.jpgThe Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) today released its 2007 Gender Equality National Index for Universities & Schools (GENIUS Index). The index evaluates how well colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts are doing in ending gender discrimination and raising awareness of gender identity and expression. It looks at non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well as the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms and housing.

This second year of the Index shows a fourfold increase in responses over 2006, with 496 students, administrators, and alumni, representing 278 colleges and universities, answering the survey. The good news is that the number of universities specifically banning discrimination based on gender identity or expression is up: 147 currently have such policies, versus 131 in 2006. All eight Ivy League schools have inclusive non-discrimination policies, but several other top schools lack such protections, including Stanford University, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Northwestern University.

At the secondary-school level, more than 100 public K-12 school districts have extended similar protections to nearly 3.5 million children in 23 states. Districts that have done so include large urban ones like the New York City Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District, but also small ones in traditionally conservative states, such as Hurley R-1 Schools in Missouri and the Lawrence County School District in Kansas. Five states—California, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon—now prohibit all public schools from discrimination based on gender identity or expression. A good start, but with over 15,000 school districts across the U.S. (PDF link), there’s still a long way to go. There’s also often a gap between policy and practice that only visibility and education can close.

These protections are more than just niceties. A University of Illinois study sponsored by GenderPAC surveyed 200 high school students in suburban Chicago, and found that 62% saw peers who “weren’t masculine or feminine enough” being called names and verbally harassed; 46% saw them ostracized and excluded from groups; and 21% saw them physically assaulted by being pushed, shoved, or hit.

It seems to me that LGBT parents often have an ambivalent attitude towards our children’s gender expression and identity. While many of us flout traditional gender roles to one degree or another, we can also feel a tremendous amount of pressure to show that our children are “normal” and LGBT parents don’t “make” their kids LGBT. Conversely, our children may feel the need to conform to gender types to protect both themselves and us. (For more on this, see my recent interview with Dr. Abbie Goldberg.) I’d like to think, though, that by and large we’re on the leading edge of breaking down traditional gender barriers. How have you responded when a salesclerk asks your son, “Are you sure you want the pink one?” or your daughter announces she wants to try out for the wrestling team? On the flip side, how do you cope with a Barbie-loving girl or a NASCAR boy? Is this easier or harder depending on where you yourself fall on the gender spectrum?

For more on the GENIUS Index, or to learn about the Gender Youth Network and other programs for building safer classrooms and communities, visit the GenderPAC Web site.