Metro Weekly

Biden executive order calls on Education Department to reassess anti-discrimination policies

Order directs Education Secretary to reverse Trump-era policies that exacerbate sex discrimination.

Joe Biden, president, trump
President Joe Biden — Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed a pair of executive orders establishing the White House Gender Policy Council and directing the U.S. Department of Education to review its nondiscrimination, anti-harassment, and student disciplinary policies under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

Issued in conjunction with International Women’s Day, the first executive order establishes the White House Gender Policy Council in order to advance gender equity and equal rights and opportunities for women and girls.

The second seeks to reverse or rescind, if needed, any Title IX policies that are inconsistent with the Biden-Harris administration’s policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex — which includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and discrimination in the form of sexual harassment or sexual violence. The review of those policies is slated to be completed within 100 days.

“It is the policy of my Administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Biden’s Title IX order reads.

“For students attending schools and other educational institutions that receive Federal financial assistance, this guarantee is codified, in part, in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972…which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The order also directs the Secretary of Education to take additional actions, if needed, to enforce administration policy as it relates to sexual harassment or sexual violence, discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, other forms of intersectional discrimination experienced by victims of harassment and violence, resources and support available to victims of sex discrimination, and school procedures on how to respond to allegations of harassment or sexual violence.

“Sexual harassment and assault have no place in our schools, yet [former Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos created a double standard that allows schools to ignore reports of harassment based on sex where similar reports based on race, national origin, or religion would require an appropriate response,” Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project. “That is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who are overwhelmingly women and girls.

While the DeVos rule included important provisions to promote fairness of disciplinary procedures, it offered no justification for imposing a double standard,” Mar added. “We urge the Department of Education to withdraw Betsy DeVos’ damaging double standard and replace it with stronger protections against sexual harassment and ensure fair processes for all students.”

See also: Trump administration sued over withdrawal of Title IX transgender guidance

Gender justice for all — especially women and girls of color, women and girls with disabilities, and women and girls who are transgender — must be a priority for the Biden administration,” Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement.

We applaud the Biden administration for creating the Gender Policy Council to ensure that equity, anti-discrimination, and intersectionality guide policy decisions and create safer and more equal spaces for women and girls,” she continued. “This is especially critical now when women, particularly women of color, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and face even greater challenges.”

With respect to LGBTQ individuals, a recent analysis by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles  School of Law found that an estimated 3.6 million students in the United States identify as LGBTQ, including about 150,000 who identify as transgender. By adopting the Biden administration’s view that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is inherently a form of sex-based discrimination, the Department of Education will extend protections those students, about 2 million of whom live in states without laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

A 2019 Williams Institute study of high school students found that state anti-bullying laws that enumerate protections for sexual orientation were associated with lower risk of suicide attempts and increased feelings of safety at school.  That’s significant because a 2014 report found that over half of transgender adults who experienced harassment or bullying in school reported lifetime suicide attempts. By amending Education Department policies in way that prevents discrimination and harassment, LGBTQ advocates hope that friendlier policies will lead to a decrease in long-term trauma and emotional or mental health problems.

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