The White House ended a set of guidelines from the Obama administration, which were intended to protect transgender students in public schools yesterday, citing “states’ rights” to determine policies on the issue.
The Obama directive, which cited Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, mandated that all schools which receive federal funds, are to recognize a student’s gender identity as his or her actual gender.
To comply with the order, schools were required, among other things, to permit transgender students to use restroom or locker rooms corresponding to their expressed gender identity, instead of their gender at birth.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, chose to follow a different interpretation of Title IX. “We feel the prior guidance documents did not explain how the language was consistent with Title IX,” Sessions declared, “Therefore, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice have withdrawn the guidance.”
Sessions also indicated that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos concurred with the move. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” DeVos said, echoing the President’s repeated statements on the issue. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Title IX was inapplicable to transgender students, “because gender identity wasn’t discussed in 1972,” when the law was enacted. Although Title IX, like all legislation, can be judicially reviewed, Spicer reiterated that “this is not an issue for the federal government.”
LGBT advocates, such as Eliza Byard, director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), decried the Wjite House action as deleterious to the health and safety of LGBT students. “I find it obscene that Mr. Spicer would characterize the well-being, health, and very safety of transgender young people as an issue of states’ rights,” Byard said. “The fact is, that no child in America should have their rights subject to their zip code”.
Former Department Of Justice Civil Rights director Vanita Gupta echoed Byard’s sentiments. “I worry that in this backlash, people are forgetting that these are children who just fundamentally need to go to school and have a right to be educated,” Gupta pointed out, “and not being able to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identity, has profound consequences on their ability to receive an equal education.”
Isaiah Wilson, External Outreach Director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an advocacy group representing LGBT people of color, said in a statement, “NBJC strongly rejects the Trump Administration’s position that this is an issue that should be reserved for the states to decide. Just like voting rights or marriage equality, this is a civil rights issue and implores our federal government to stand up and protect the most vulnerable in our society when states lack the political will to do so.” He said the Trump decision was “shameful and contrary to American values.”
The White House declined comment on how permitting states to determine the rights of transgender students would work in states like North Carolina or Mississippi, where anti-LGBT laws permitting discrimination are in effect.
A dozen states sued the Obama administration last summer over the Title IX issue, and its enforcement had been delayed by a judicial injunction to give the courts time to consider the order’s merits.