Yesterday (February 22nd), it was reported that President Trump’s administration had withdrawn federal guidelines protected transgender students. Implemented during the tenure of President Obama, they allowed students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms of their gender identities.
The move comes despite President Trump’s promise during his campaign that he would fight for LGBTQ rights, and has been seen as a huge blow in the fight for equality. And, as The Guardian notes, it appears that the administration doesn’t view the current federal civil rights protections as prohibiting discrimination when it comes to gender identity.
In a letter, The Department of Justice and Education announced the decision, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions stating that the current guidelines did not provide “sufficient legal analysis,” and questioned how they fit intoTitle IX The Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”
“Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue,” Sessions said.
“This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” the Associated Press reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos saying. “Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.”
While not legally binding, since the introduction of the guidelines by Obama’s administration in May 2016, 13 states, most notably Texas, sued the government for attempting to assert federal power, with the current administration agreeing, noting that “returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”
It has been reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fought against the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to preserve anti-bullying safeguards, with the letter stating that “[a]ll schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.” However, the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spice, denied these claims.
Following Wednesday’s ruling, activists, celebrities, and LGBTQ rights groups responded to the decision.
“This is a mean-spirited attack on hundreds of thousands of students who simply want to be their true selves and be treated with dignity while attending school,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality to The Guardian. “These young people already face incredible hurdles in their pursuit of education and acceptance. With a pen stroke, the Trump Administration effectively sanctions the bullying, ostracizing, and isolation of these children, putting their very lives in danger.”
What’s more, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that the move should not affect the rights of students. “Trans students are protected from discrimination by federal law and the administration can’t change that,” said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the ACLU.
The decision from Trump’s administration comes just weeks ahead of a Supreme Court case brought against the state of Virginia by transgender student Gavin Grimm. Lawyers for Grimm are set to argue that federal laws against sex discrimination should, in fact, extend to transgendered individuals.
Furthermore, medical professionals, LGBTQ rights groups, and mental health advocates have noted the negative impact that denying trans-students access to bathrooms and locker rooms can have.
“For transgender students, being in a school that affirms and supports their gender identity is critical to ensuring that they too can experience adolescence in a healthy and constructive manner,” a brief by leading medical societies reads. “Refusing to respect and affirm a transgender student’s gender identity communicates a clear, negative message: there is something wrong with the student that warrants this unequal treatment.”
As the AP notes, the current patchwork of differing laws state-to-state is likely to continue. Currently, 15 states have laws that protect the transgender students, with many school districts in other states adopting their own protections the cover gender identity. However, as is the law in North Carolina, 10 states are currently attempting to enact laws that prohibit which bathrooms people use to the sex on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings.
The decision sparked a hashtag on social media, #ProtectTransKids, with some planning protests on Washington and in other places around the country.
If this news has affected you, please contact the Trevor Project here.