On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with transgender students, parents, and advocates who had asked to meet with her to discuss transgender issues and share their personal stories.
The private meeting, news of which was leaked to the press, comes just weeks after the Department of Education’s decision, made jointly with the Department of Justice, to rescind guidance that allowed transgender students to access facilities consistent with their gender identity.
In addition to meeting with students and parents, DeVos, who hails from Michigan, me with Stephanie White, the executive director of Equality Michigan, Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, Nathan Smith, the director of public policy at GLSEN, and Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. The LGBTQ advocates used their time to express concerns about the lack of federal protections for transgender students, and offered suggestions for ways in which the Department of Education could achieve those aims.
“We highlighted the pervasive violence and discrimination that the majority of transgender students face across the country, including being prevented from using their correct name and pronouns and appropriate school facilities,” Byard said in a statement. “We told DeVos about the immediate impact of withdrawing the guidance, and discussed ways that she might be able to mitigate the pain, fear, and confusion that decision has caused. We described the years of experience, research and careful policy-making behind the original Title IX guidance and all of the emerging best practices it helped to publicize.”
DeVos’ office also released a statement about the meeting.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to speak directly with these families, students and community leaders about their concerns, thoughts, fears and suggestions,” she said. “Every school and every school leader has a moral responsibility to protect all students and ensure every child is respected and can learn in an accepting environment. I remain committed to advocating for and fighting on behalf of all students. Today’s meeting was compelling, moving and welcomed, and part of an ongoing dialogue with families and students throughout the country.”
Vanessa Ford, the mother of a transgender daughter from Washington, D.C., was one of those parents who attended the meeting with DeVos. Ford, who attended with her husband J.R. and daughter Ellie, posted her reaction to the meeting to Facebook.
“Since the rescinding of the Title IX guidance, we, like the thousands of families like ours around the country, felt scared and uncertain for our children,” Vanessa Ford wrote, adding that she wanted DeVos to be able to put faces and names to those who are affected by the now-revoked guidance. “By telling our daughter’s story, we tried to be a voice for all of the families who could not be that room and do not have the same kind of support and safety — children and families in every state and district in this country who are fighting for the basic right to exist in public space and be themselves.
“Our hope is that [DeVos] didn’t just listen, but that she truly heard us. And the way we will know that is through her actions,” Ford concluded.