Metro Weekly

LGBT groups concerned about DeVos nomination as Education Secretary

LGBT organizations express skepticism of DeVos' record on LGBT rights ahead of confirmation hearing

Betsy DeVos – Photo: Keith A. Almli, via Wikimedia.

Some national LGBT organizations are cautioning U.S. senators to do an in-depth vetting of Betsy DeVos, the billionaire charter school advocate tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be the nation’s next Secretary of Education.

Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest LGBT legal organization, expressed concern over DeVos’ record, which includes providing financial support via donations to Focus on the Family and her extended family’s history of donating to other anti-LGBT groups, including those that support the practice of conversion therapy on LGBT minors. The organization has also expressed concern over DeVos’ support of charter schools and other privatization efforts, under which schools may not have to abide by local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students contact Lambda Legal every day to seek help being safe at school,” Lambda Legal CEO Rachel Tiven said in a statement. “We need a Secretary of Education who will make schools safe for all students, and who won’t tolerate bullying — by peers, parents, or school administrators.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality also weighed in, with Executive Director Mara Keisling releasing a statement saying: “The Secretary of Education must have the interests of all students in mind, and everything we have seen from Betsy DeVos suggests that she will not. The hundreds of thousands of transgender students around the nation deserve better than a Secretary of Education who has donated huge sums of money to organizations that have called transgender people ‘broken.'”

Transgender advocates ave been particularly concerned about the Trump administration’s interpretation of Title IX. Social conservatives have long argued that Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination do not apply to transgender students who are treated according to their biological sex instead of their gender identity. The outgoing Obama administration had deferred to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which ruled in 2015 that Title IX did protect transgender students. That interpretation was the basis for the Department’s subsequent guidance last year that urged school districts to allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that comport with their gender identity.

Also last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title IX’s protections extend to transgender students when it determined that Gloucester (Va.) High School student Gavin Grimm should be entitled to sue for discrimination after being barred from the boys’ restroom. That decision will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring. 

“The Secretary of Education’s role as the enforcer of education and civil rights laws is central to advancing our shared vision of an inclusive and diverse system of high-quality public education that enables every student to live up to their potential,” Keisling said. “DeVos has demonstrated no previous commitment to ensuring equal educational opportunity in schools.

“When compared with Secretaries of Education throughout the history of the department, DeVos’ lack of experience stands out. She has never been an educator or worked directly with children and families in public schools. She has never led a school, district or state agency tasked with educating students. She has never been a public school parent or a public school student,” Keisling continued. “This lack of experience makes her uniquely unfamiliar with the challenges and opportunities facing the nation’s students, families, educators and schools.”

DeVos’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com