The Trump Administration's Department of Education, headed by secretary Betsy DeVos, has made some major decisions in a very short amount of time. Much of them have been influenced by the rather conspicuous agenda to undo Obama-era guidance. One of the most controversial changes was the decision to rollback transgender protections.
In May 2016, former president Barack Obama instructed public schools on all levels to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that coincide with their gender identity. This order was issued as an interpretation of Title IX, which mandates sex equality in education. Consequently, any complaints received by a school alleging discrimination against a transgender student was to be adjudicated by said school.
But in February 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded this guidance. In a letter to the Supreme Court and the country's public schools, the department stated that it will not “rely on the views expressed in that guidance, and instead will consider further and more completely the legal issues involved.” The letter did not address how gender discrimination complaints involving transgender students and bathroom accommodations were to be adjudicated from that point on, leaving it up to the schools to resolve the issue how they see fit.
A few months ago, LGBTQ advocates created buzz regarding their suspicions that the Education Department was dismissing transgender discrimination bathroom cases. In an interview with NPR, department spokesperson Liz Hill confirmed much of what was suspected by announcing that the rollback has lead to a new development. She revealed that the U.S. Department of Education will no longer investigate civil rights complaints from transgender students prohibited from using the gendered bathrooms or locker rooms they identify with.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Hill stated. She went on to say that access to accommodations like restrooms, and presumably locker rooms in particular, don't fall under the realm of Title IX: “In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”
As expected, LGBTQ advocates expressed outrage about the policy, calling it “dangerous” and “reprehensible.” Many say that the policy endorses much of the bullying behavior and violence against transgender students that already goes unchecked. Secretary DeVos, however, claims that all students are protected from bullying and harassment, as these behaviors do fall under Title IX and must be adjudicated.
Still, advocates worry that the administration's position may be sending the wrong message to schools that haven't yet taken a stance on this issue.
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