Last year, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance reminding schools that Title IX prohibits discrimination against transgender students, including denying them access to the restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are expected to rescind this guidance.
Last month, the Trump-Pence administration declared itself to be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” But actions speak louder than words. First, the administration acknowledged that it was considering signing an executive order that contains perhaps the most sweeping attack on LGBTQ and women’s rights in the name of religion that we have ever seen. Then, in a brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit just two days after Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General, the Justice Department indicated that it might rescind the federal guidance on trans students. This would mean that the government would no longer enforce the federal anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender students. Now, Jeff Sessions along with Betsy DeVos are about to take steps to fulfill that promise to rescind the guidance.
To be clear, Title IX still protects trans students’ rights. But this reversal on the guidance will have grave consequences.
The guidance provides examples of best practices from schools across the country that already follow Title IX’s requirements. The federal guidance came at the request of the many other public schools that take seriously their duty to protect all students against discrimination, including transgender students, but just need a little more support and a road map. Now, following the rescission, it will be much harder for them to explain why protecting transgender students is required by federal civil rights law to a sometimes vocal minority who would have the public schools go back to shunning the students.
For example, when Gavin Grimm, a transgender high-school student from Virginia, was permitted to use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity, some members of the community complained, asserting religious and moral objections to transgender people. The School Board responded with a new policy that prohibits the student from using the boys’ bathroom, meaning that the student must use the special restroom in the nurse’s office or else go all day without using the restroom at all. That’s unfair and cruel. And without this guidance, more transgender students could face the same indefensible treatment.
Gavin challenged his school’s unfair, discriminatory policy in court and now his case, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., will be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Americans United will file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Gavin and we will continue to fight for the rights of transgender students to live free from discrimination—because religion is never an excuse to discriminate against someone.