Betsy DeVos Reaffirms: No Protections for Transgender Students

Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got grilled today about protecting LGBT students’ rights, and she showed an unwillingness to do so.

In a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, challenged DeVos on her statement last month that the Department of Education would no longer investigate complaints from transgender students denied access to the restrooms and other single-sex facilities matching their gender identity. He noted that federal courts have ruled that Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, also bans discrimination based on gender identity.

She stood for the narrower interpretation of Title IX, saying, “This department is not going to make law; we are going to continue to enforce laws.” She said she would wait until the Supreme Court or Congress clarifies that the law applies to transgender students. Pocan then commented, “So you won’t back the courts.” Last year the Education and Justice departments withdrew Obama-era guidelines that said Title IX should be interpreted in a transgender-inclusive manner.

GLAAD issued a statement denouncing DeVos’s performance in the interaction with Pocan. “As Secretary DeVos fumbles through another congressional hearing, her record of walking-back LGBTQ protections and actively refusing to aid transgender students facing discrimination speaks for itself,” said president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “It is long past time for Secretary DeVos to reverse course and clearly denounce policies that target LGBTQ students. Our Secretary of Education should be fighting for all students, not actively making life more difficult for transgender students.”

Also during today’s hearing, another Democrat, Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, pressed DeVos on whether any private schools receiving federal funds would have to adhere to federal nondiscrimination law on race, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. Clark had difficulty getting a yes or no answer from DeVos on the topic, something the secretary has been cagey about in the past. DeVos finally answered yes, only after Clark raised the question several times.

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