LGBTQ advocates are once again pouncing on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for refusing to directly answer a question about whether she opposed discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee about President Trump’s education budget, DeVos was asked by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of eight openly gay House members, whether she opposed discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, reports The Hill.
Referring to comments by DeVos made earlier in the hearing when she attempted to defend her decision to rescind Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial disparities when it comes to the frequency and severity of school suspensions, Pocan posed the following question to DeVos: “You mentioned race, religion, and I notice you never mentioned sexual orientation or gender identity. Do you think it’s all right for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?”
DeVos paused before responding, saying: “We have laws that cover…discriminatory efforts and our office for civil rights has continued to be very diligent in investigating any allegation of discrimination and will continue to do so.”
“So is that a yes or is that a no?” Pocan asked. “I’m trying to get a yes-or-no, I guess, on that.”
“We follow the law as this body has defined,” DeVos answered as Pocan interrupted her to ask if she had a personal opinion on that matter, noting that DeVos has previously advocated allowing individual states to decide if charter schools that discriminate based on religious or moral beliefs can continue receiving taxpayer dollars. But DeVos never answered whether she had a personal opinion.
DeVos has previously come under fire from LGBTQ advocates for rescinding Obama-era guidance on how transgender children are treated in school and whether their gender identity is recognized in situations ranging from whether their correct gender is listed on their school transcripts to which restroom they are able to use.
DeVos previously defended a decision by the department’s Office for Civil Rights to ignore complaints filed by transgender students who allege discrimination under Title IX for being barred from restrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identity.
The Office for Civil Rights indicated at the time that it would continue to investigate other complaints of discrimination or harassment lodged by transgender students, so long as it did not involve access to restrooms, locker rooms, or other intimate spaces.
DeVos was later quoted as saying the Education Department would not change its current policy until either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court “clarifies” whether Title IX’s prohibitions on “discrimination based on sex” apply to transgender students, or only students who conform to gender norms based on their assigned sex at birth — with the latter view being embraced by the Trump administration.
DeVos’ responses to Pocan were met with skepticism from the Human Rights Campaign, which last year projected messages on the Department of Education building asking DeVos, “How do you sleep at night?” in response to a survey of transgender teens, 70% of whom reported they were bullied in school, and 95% of whom claimed they experienced high levels of stress and anxiety due to a lack of policies to protect them from discrimination or harassment.
“From day one of this administration, Betsy DeVos has undermined the safety, dignity, and civil rights of LGBTQ students,” David Stacy, HRC’s director of government affairs, said in a statement. “Sadly, it is not the least surprising that the Secretary of Education is unwilling to give a direct answer on whether or not she thinks discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong.
“Regardless of what her view of the state of current law is, this should be an easy answer for any adult who believes no child should feel unsafe or unwelcome in their schools and communities.”