Donald Trump, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
LGBTQ groups unleashed their spleen on the Trump administration after the Department of Justice and Department of Education sent around a “Dear Colleague” letter officially rescinding guidance from the Obama administration that guarantees transgender students are treated according to their gender identity.
Among other things, the guidance had advised teachers and administrators to allow transgender students to access restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that comport with their gender identity, not their biological sex at birth. According to the Obama administration, Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also protects transgender and gender-nonconforming students who are treated unfairly because they do not adhere to traditional gender or sex stereotypes.
The guidance was subsequently blocked when a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction last year preventing the Obama administration from compelling school districts to adhere to the guidance. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew a challenge to that injunction that would have limited its scope to a group of 12 states that sued over the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.
LGBTQ groups were swift in condemning the rescinded guidance. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Women’s Law Center, GLSEN, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, MALDEF, and the Human Rights Campaign issued a joint statement outlining the risks the Trump administration’s actions pose to transgender students.
“The guidance released by the Departments of Justice and Education last May clarified for school districts across the country that transgender students are protected under Title IX,” the statement reads. “The guidance presented best practices from schools across the country and advised schools on complying with the law. School districts received much-needed clarification that, under federal law, they must treat students equally and with dignity, consistent with their gender identity. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of transgender students received a clear message: the law was on their side.
“By rescinding the guidance today, the Trump administration has taken the opposite stance. They have sent a deeply troubling message to students that the administration will not stand up for students’ civil rights. We condemn the administration’s decision, vow to fight to enforce Title IX, which continues to protect transgender students, and call on individual schools and districts to treat students consistent with their gender identity and consistent with the rescinded guidance that accurately explained the law.”
The Victory Institute called the move by the Trump administration “abhorrent” but also not surprising.
“Regardless of Trump claiming he would be a friend to LGBT people, the reality is personnel is policy,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, the group’s president and CEO, referring to Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who have previously been accused of harboring anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
“Trump is surrounding himself with anti-LGBT appointees who demonize our community and reject the notion of civil rights for LGBT people, making anti-LGBT policies almost inevitable,” Moodie-Mills continued. “While Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are blind to the needs of transgender students who want to safely attend school, fortunately the law is not. Most courts have determined Title IX protects transgender students, and now it is up to local leaders and school board members to enforce those protections regardless of anti-equality declarations from the White House.”
“The Trump administration today showed a few more of its true colors, and they are decidedly not the colors of the rainbow,” David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. “By rescinding federal guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education that helped to ensure equal educational opportunities for transgender students, the administration has contributed to the baseless hysteria and panic that puts so many vulnerable transgender youth at risk.”
Roddy Flynn, the executive director of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, called the move by Sessions and DeVos “cruel” and said Trump has “turned his back on the transgender community and shown a willful disregard for the safety of transgender students everywhere.”
“We stand with transgender students and their families in strong resistance to bullying, even when it comes from the White House,” Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation, said. “All students, including transgender students, should have a fair opportunity to participate fully and succeed in school. The nation’s leading educators and child health experts agree that it is best for all students when transgender students are treated consistently as the gender that matches how they live every day.”
Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, called the rescinded guidance a “new low” that “invites discrimination” against transgender students.
“We all know that Donald Trump is a bully, but his attack on transgender children today is a new low. The U.S. Department of Education’s decision to withdraw guidance clarifying the rights of transgender students endangers the well-being and safety of children across the country,” Tiven said in a statement. She also blasted DeVos and Sessions for their part in issuing the guidance, and vowed that Lambda Legal would help transgender students take legal action if they are discriminated against because of their gender identity.
“Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary just one week ago. At her brief confirmation hearing she publicly committed to protecting LGBT students — this harms them,” Tiven said. “Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary DeVos give us sickening echoes of the racially segregated schools era by claiming that enforcement of this federal civil rights law is a ‘states’ rights issue.’ This is not just a bizarre misunderstanding. We recognize that language. This is a cynical rejection of the federal government’s responsibility to enforce federal law protections for vulnerable students.
“At Lambda Legal, we are already in court fighting for transgender students, and we are prepared to sue any school district that discriminates in the wake of the Trump administration’s actions today.”