Jeff Sessions – Photo: Gage Skidmore; Betsy DeVos – Photo: U.S. Department of Education.
Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to release any information related to their decision earlier this year to rescind Obama-era guidance that had provided protections for transgender students.
The now-withdrawn guidance had urged school administrators to treat transgender students according to their gender identity with respect to name, pronoun use, privacy, dress codes, and protections against bullying and harassment. The Obama administration had regularly interpreted the prohibitions on sex discrimination in Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 as applicable to situations where transgender students are discriminated against because of their gender identity.
Following the rescission of the Obama administration’s guidance, Lambda Legal filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents and communications related to the decision to withdraw the guidance. Both departments failed to comply with the FOIA requests, refusing to release a single document to Lambda Legal.
In its complaint, Lambda Legal requests that the Justice and Education Departments, and any of their departments or agents “conduct a reasonable search” for all records related to Lambda’s FOIA request, enjoin the Departments or their agents from withholding records or portions of records related to the request, and hand over those records to Lambda Legal.
The organization also asks that fees for processing the FOIA requests be waived, and that the departments reimburse Lambda Legal for any attorney fees or other legal costs incurred as a result of having to file the lawsuit.
“The Departments of Education and Justice pulled the rug out from under transgender students, leaving them even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. We need to know why,” Susan Sommer, associate legal director and director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
“Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of our country’s democracy, and the Freedom of Information Act is a vital part of citizens’ ability to understand how the government works and hold politicians accountable. The Departments of Education and Justice cannot be allowed to flout those ideals, to devise policies behind closed doors with terrible consequences for transgender schoolchildren nationwide.”