Metro Weekly

Williams Institute: Will Betsy DeVos protect transgender students?

LGBTQ think tank outlines the challenges that continue to face transgender students in schools

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

A national LGBTQ think tank is questioning whether newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will continue to protect transgender students.

The Williams Institute at UCLA, which specializes in LGBTQ polling and policy, asked if DeVos will ensure more than 350,000 transgender youth and young adults attending public educational institutions will be protected from discrimination in education.

They outlined several major concerns for LGBTQ students under a DeVos-led Department of Education. 


Of chief concern is DeVos’ stance on guidance issued by the Obama administration’s Department of Education last year that sought to have transgender students treated according to their gender identities.

That guidance was based on an interpretation by the Department’s Office of Civil Rights which found that transgender students are protected from discrimination based on sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. But DeVos has not said whether she will continue to keep that policy in place.

The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments on March 28 in the case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., where transgender student Gavin Grimm is seeking to be permitted to use the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Title IX does, in fact, require schools to guarantee equal access to transgender students, including their ability to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities.

According to the Williams Institute, there are approximately 150,000 transgender youth aged 13-17 and 206,000 young adults enrolled in various educational institutions. Research has shown that those students experience higher rates of being targeted for bullying or harassment at the hands of their fellow students.

Based on results from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 77 percent of transgender people who were “out” or perceived as gender-nonconforming in school said they had been bullied or harassed, with 1 in 6 saying they were forced to leave school because of how they were mistreated.

The Williams Institute also cited statistics showing that 60 percent of transgender students responding to the 2015 National School Climate Survey had been required to use a restroom or locker room designated for their biological sex at birth.

In a Washington, D.C. survey, 70 percent of transgender respondents were denied access to facilities that correspond to their gender identity. Subsequently, 54 percent also reported physical problems stemming from their avoidance of public bathrooms, including dehydration, urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and other kidney-related problems.

“Educational attainment is a significant determinant of economic status and health across the life course,” the Williams Institute writes. “But discrimination, harassment, and victimization impairs many transgender students’ access to education, and is associated with lower educational attainment, reduced economic prospects, increased risk of homelessness, and other negative outcomes.

“Despite these findings, research shows that creating a supportive environment that treats transgender people consistent with their gender identity can ameliorate these negative outcomes,” the Institute concludes in what could be considered a message directed at DeVos. “Transgender people who are accepted and supported at home and in their community report lower rates of negative outcomes, including lower rates of mental distress, homelessness, and suicide.”

DeVos previously came under fire during her confirmation hearings, particularly for her alleged ties to anti-LGBTQ groups.

The American Federation of Teachers, which opposed her confirmation, said DeVos and her husband, Dick, a failed gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, donated $100,000 to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a group that opposes same-sex marriage.

Several LGBTQ groups noted that DeVos was listed as a board member of her mother’s family foundation, which donated to Focus on the Family, a group that opposes the expansion of LGBTQ rights and advocates for conversion therapy.

Under questioning from Democrats on the committee, DeVos said she has “never” supported conversion therapy, and denied she was a board member at the time the donation was made. She said that tax documents listing her as a board member for nine years were a “clerical error.”

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