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It’s Title IX’s 45th Birthday!

The days of forcing girls to take home economics, while boys take shop, are long gone.

But, in 2017, sexism is alive and well in classrooms all across the country. Today in America, girls are kept from walking at graduation because they’re pregnant, punished for wearing tank-tops, harassed for using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, raped by classmates at alarmingly high rates, and subjected to physical violence by school resource officers for alleged “attitude” violations.

This continuing reality of gender inequality in schools in 2017 is what makes Title IX so important to all of us over here at Feministing. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding. It’s the law that’s allowed lots of us to grow up playing sports. It’s kept others of us from dropping out of school after being raped or abused. And, in a country without a formal federal constitutional right to education, it’s about the closest thing we’ve got to a federal guarantee of educational access and equality.

This week, Title IX turns 45. We need it now more than ever.

Plenty of us know that Title IX requires parity in girls’ and boys’ athletics, but it does so much more. One of the single biggest barriers to fulfilling Title IX’s promise of equality in education is that girls and other students don’t realize it protects them. So today, in honor of Title IX’s big birthday, do the young people you love a solid and send them this post about their rights in school.

Who Title IX Protects

Title IX protects students at any educational level, from kindergarten to graduate school, who attend schools that receive federal funding. That means any public school, plus nearly every private college and university, as well as plenty of private K-12 schools that receive federal moneys through the federal lunch program and others like it. It protects girls, as well as students who don’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes. And it protects faculty and staff, too.

What Title IX Does

Title IX does a lot. Here are five examples.

1. Forbids schools from discriminating against pregnant and parenting students. It’s illegal for schools that receive federal dollars to kick a student who becomes pregnant out of the honors society, or to force her into a “special” (read: less rigorous) high school. But it happens all. the. time. Learn more about pregnant and parenting students’ rights from the National Women’s Law Center.

2. Prohibits discriminatory dress codes. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about another school punishing a girl for shorts that fail to meet the “fingertips” test, outfits considered “distracting” to the boys, or a hairstyle that’s deemed “too messy.” Black and gender non-conforming girls often bear the brunt of these sexist — and racist — dress codes. And the sanctions that accompany them leave girls feeling humiliated and stigmatized, and forced to miss out on school. It’s all probably illegal — and on the cutting edge of Title IX (and Title VI) litigation today. Learn more from the ACLU here.

3. Requires schools to take action to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Under Title IX, schools must take action to protect students from harassment based on gender stereotyping. And, no matter what the Trump Administration says to the contrary, Title IX protects transgender and gender non-conforming students.

4. Protects student survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Schools must take steps to prevent and respond to gender violence and harassment. Student survivors are entitled to the academic, housing, and other accommodations they need in order to stay in school and learn. Learn more from Know Your IX — and remember, Title IX protects K-12 sexual violence victims, too.

5. Requires parity in boys’ and girls’ athletics. Research shows that girls who play sports in high school are more likely than non-athletes to graduate and earn 7% higher wages as adults. Learn more from our friends at Legal Aid at Work.

What You Can Do

Spread the word! Students can’t stand up for their rights if they don’t know they have them to begin with. And if you think your school is violating girls’ rights, speak up. Write about it in your local newspaper. Organize your peers. Launch an activist campaign. Persist.

Header image via Know Your IX. I am not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice. Contact the National Women’s Law Center if you seek legal assistance.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a senior editor at Feministing.com and the co-founder (and former ED) of Know Your IX, a national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Nation. She's a student at Yale Law School.

Dana Bolger is the co-founder of Know Your IX and a senior editor at Feministing.

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