Metro Weekly

Parents of transgender children write letter calling out Betsy DeVos for her anti-trans record

Letter argues failure to protect students from discrimination can lead to various problems

Betsy DeVos — Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

More than 700 parents of transgender children have signed a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calling her out for her failure to protect transgender students from discrimination in schools.

The letter, circulated by the Human Rights Campaign and its Parents for Transgender Equality Council, asks DeVos to recognize basic human and civil rights of transgender young people, including the ability to go to the restroom that matches their gender identity without incident.

“All any parent wants is for their children to be safe, healthy, and fulfilled. Sadly, today in America, we see our children ostracized and discriminated against in too many of their schools,” the letter reads. “This toxic reality compromises their ability to learn and succeed both academically and socially, yet the Office of Civil Rights claims this issue is not within its jurisdiction or, by extension, responsibility.”

DeVos has courted controversy and inflamed the anger of the LGBTQ community since she was first nominated for her current position, largely due to her family’s financial support of conservative, anti-LGBTQ organizations.

Just days after her confirmation one year ago, DeVos, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era protections for young transgender people that encouraged schools and administrators to treat transgender children according to their gender identity.

Reports have also recently surfaced that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been turning away transgender students and their parents when they’ve filed complaints under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights division has said it lacks “subject matter jurisdiction” in such cases, pointing to the lack of any clear legal precedent finding that transgender people are entitle to protection under Title IX.

“As parents of transgender children, we have witnessed firsthand the discrimination that transgender youth face on a daily basis simply because of who they are,” the parents’ letter continues. “Our children are at a significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicide. Sadly, the discrimination that causes this distress emerges even among professionals who are tasked with educating the next generation and preparing them for the world. We will not have our children left behind and their lives put at risk as a result of this bigotry.”

The parents also note that the prohibition on transgender students from certain gender-specific spaces such as restrooms or locker rooms has forced many to avoid eating food or drinking water in order to avoid having to use the restroom. According to a survey of more than 12,000 transgender youth by the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, 50% of transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming youth sat they never use the restroom in school, which puts them at higher risk of developing physical problems. 

That same survey also found that only 18% of transgender youth are able to get their teachers and peers to refer to them by their correct name and pronouns at school, and 30% are able to completely dress and express themselves in a way that reflects their gender identity.

“When Betsy DeVos rescinded protective guidance for transgender students, she not only turned her back on my son, Jay, but also on our family and families like ours across the country,” Sarah Watson, the co-chair of HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council, said in a statement. “Every child deserves the same protections as their peers — this should be Betsy DeVos’s priority as the nation’s education secretary. No child should fear going to school because their teachers and administrators lack clear guidance on how to support and respect every student.”

“My son, Max, is not a political pawn,” Amber Briggle, who serves as Watson’s co-chair on the Transgender Equality Council, said in a statement. “He is simply a young boy hoping to learn and live. But because politicians like Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos have chosen to target him and other transgender children for discrimination, our families are standing up to defend them from these vicious attacks. We won’t relent until our children — and all children — are safe from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

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