Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, known for her many anti-transgender actions, has submitted her resignation to Donald Trump and blamed him for inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol.
DeVos would be out anyway after Joe Biden takes office as president January 20, but she submitted her resignation Thursday, telling Trump Friday would be her last day and citing the rioting at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.
“We should be highlighting and celebrating your administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people,” she wrote, according to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter. “Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business. That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
DeVos had been among the first Cabinet secretaries to condemn the action at the capitol, in which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building and interrupted Congress’s certification of the electoral vote for Biden. As they vandalized and looted offices and other areas, one of their number was shot to death by U.S. Capitol Police, a Capitol Police officer was injured (he then died Thursday night), and at least three other people died after suffering medical emergencies.
Trump, refusing to accept defeat in the election, had encouraged supporters to march on the capitol, but now he has finally said there will be a peaceful transfer of power. And Congress was able to reconvene Wednesday night and ended up certifying the vote early Thursday morning.
That the Trump administration had “many accomplishments on behalf of the American people” is questionable. But DeVos’s Education Department took many actions against trans students and other marginalized groups. In one of her first actions, in February 2017, she and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted the Obama administration’s guidelines advising schools to respect trans students’ preferred names and pronouns and letting them use the restrooms and other facilities comporting with their gender identity.
She was said to have been reluctant to end the guidance but did so anyway, but when questioned by the House Education and Labor Committee in 2019, she admitted she knew trans students would be harmed by the action.
Additionally, she has threatened to withhold federal funds from schools that allow trans females to participate in girls’ and women’s sports, and in another instance of House testimony, she refused to say if she opposes anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, saying only that the Education Department follows federal law, which does not specifically ban such discrimination. Her other actions included lifting guidelines for colleges on rape investigations, making it harder for students to prove they’ve been assaulted.
DeVos is a conservative Christian from a wealthy family in Michigan. Her father made a fortune in the auto parts business, and she married Dick DeVos, son of the founder of Amway. Her brother is Erik Prince, who runs the military contracting firm Blackwater. Both the DeVos and Prince families have ties to religious right groups and have donated to anti-LGBTQ+ causes. But it appears that DeVos herself has not contributed to such causes, and Greg McNeilly, a gay man who has been a political adviser to her, has said she was supportive of him and his activism.
Nonetheless, her actions as Education Secretary have not benefited LGBTQ+ or other marginalized students. And she came into the office with no experience in public education and a record of support for private schools.
Another Trump Cabinet member, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, submitted her resignation Thursday. Attorney General William Barr stepped down December 23.
GLSEN issued a statement on DeVos Friday, noting her destructive record and the fact that she could have stayed to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Under the amendment, the vice president can declare the president unfit to serve if a majority of Cabinet members agree.
“Betsy DeVos began her tenure with an action she knew would harm transgender students,” Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “She enthusiastically sent our taxpayer dollars to schools that explicitly and actively discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. She willfully destroyed programs and approaches carefully designed to protect the civil rights of Black and Brown students and students with disabilities. She stood by when President Trump put immigrant children in cages.
“And now, rather than taking the action she could to protect the nation from this President’s unhinged support for white supremacist violence by invoking the 25th Amendment with other cabinet members, she resigns with a laughable protest of the President’s ‘rhetoric.’ DeVos should never be allowed to forget or live down the harmful impact of her actions as Secretary of Education on some of our most vulnerable students, from LGBTQ+ students to students of color to students with disabilities. A shameful tenure from the first day to the last.”