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Proposal may let students choose gender identity

Posted at 9:07 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 09:07:02-04

Michigan students may soon be able to choose their own gender identity without a parent or doctor signing off. It's part of a proposal by the Department of Education and State Board of Education.

The goal is to make schools more inclusive for LGBTQ students.

For Amanda Niven that's a step in the right direction.

"The message that I was getting all the time is that there's no place for me, there's something wrong with me," Niven said.

As a member of the trans community who identifies as non-binary, Niven didn't get support in school. Now as a parent Niven says that's still a problem in some districts.

"I would love to see something change where that's not the message we're giving our kids anymore," Niven added.

The State Board of Education and School Board are trying to change that, with nearly 9 percent of Michigan students identifying as LGBTQ.

"A lot of school districts have reached out to us and are looking for guidance," explained Deputy Superintendent at the Michigan Department of Education, Kyle Guerrant.

The proposed guidance suggests letting students pick their own gender, name, pronoun as well as the bathroom they use.

It also outlines other ways schools can support students, including training for teachers and additional programs.

"We know that students that identify as LGBTQ have significantly higher risk factors," Guerrant added. "They're four and a half times more likely to commit suicide than their peers and thats from our Michigan specific data."

Lansing School Board President Peter Spadafore tells us ensuring a safe welcoming environment for every student is a priority in Lansing and it's part of the board's strategic plan. Spadafore says he's happy the state is working on this guidance.

Even though schools wouldn't be required to follow the guidance Nathan Triplett, Political Director at Equality Michigan, calls it progress.

"These are issues that really implicate basic human dignity," Triplett said. "Adopting these policies will help make sure that they have the support and the security and the safety that they need."

Niven agrees it's a long overdue change.

"If young kids have the awareness-of-self and bravery to be able to announce that to the world, then the world needs to be ready for that," Niven said.

The Board of Education and the State School Board will be taking public comment on the proposals through April 11th.

The board plans to vote on it in May.