The Trump administration has just withdrawn Obama-era guidelines on how schools should accommodate transgender students, the Associated Press reports.
The move was expected since Monday, when news leaked that the administration was likely to make it. The guidelines had been on hold due to lawsuits filed against them, and the letter rescinding them noted litigation and confusion over enforcement.
Last year, while Barack Obama was president, the Education and Justice Departments issued the guidelines, saying among other things that transgender students should be called by their preferred names and pronouns, and have access to the restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The guidelines are nonbinding, but the Obama administration had warned that schools not following them could be found in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination, and face a loss of federal funding. During Obama's presidency, the departments held that Title IX covers discrimination based on gender identity.
LGBT rights activists say the government issued the guidelines in response to inquiries from school districts about how to adhere to best practices concerning trans students and avoid Title IX violations.
The revocation was likewise issued by the Education and Justice Departments. "This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement, according to the AP. "Schools, communities, and families can find -- and in many cases have found -- solutions that protect all students."
DeVos's statement echoed President Donald Trump's long-asserted position that this is a states' rights issue, as did one issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who heads the Justice Department. "Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue," Sessions said.
The letter rescinding the guidelines did say that "all schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment."
Activists have pointed out that schools remain free to set inclusive and affirming policies for transgender students, noting that trans young people do much better in school if their identity is affirmed. Also, courts remain free to rule on the scope of Title IX, which is one of the questions that will be before the U.S. Supreme Court next month when it hears the case involving transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who sued his Virginia school district after it denied him access to the boys' restroom. However, they also warn that the move may embolden lawmakers to introduce legislation that is hostile to trans students, and say transgender equality should not be something that varies from state to state or locality to locality, but instead should be a matter of national policy.
"This Administration's action sends a harmful message to transgender young people -- that their government does not support them, and that it is fine to single out those who are different," said a statement issued by Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "That message is sure to empower bullies. But it does not change the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students. That's why the nation's education leaders and more and more schools in every part of the country are supporting transgender students, and that won't change."
"What could possibly motivate a blind and cruel attack on young children like this?" added Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. "These transgender students simply want to go to school in the morning without fear of discrimination or harassment. The consequences of this decision will no doubt be heartbreaking. This isn't a 'states rights' issue, it's a civil rights issue. Children deserve protection from bullying no matter what state they live in. Period. The policies included in the rescinded guidance have existed in cities, states, and school districts -- from Minneapolis to Fort Worth -- for years, seamlessly and successfully affirming and welcoming transgender students in thousands of classrooms throughout the country. Every transgender student should know that, no matter what Donald Trump does or says, there are millions of people who will fight to stand up for them. We are proud to be among them."
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, issued this statement: "There is no legal basis for this shift in federal policy, which is driven by the anti-LGBT agenda of Vice President Pence and Attorney General Sessions. Since our founding, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has stood for the principle that every child deserves love, respect, and recognition for who they are. We have advanced this vision for 40 years, and we do not intend to let this administration's irresponsible and cowardly actions get in the way of fighting for our youth. The laws of many states and the District of Columbia already reflect our shared commitment to making schools safer for LGBTQ youth, and numerous federal courts have agreed that Title IX protects these students as well. We will not let Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence, two of the most openly anti-LGBT public officials in our nation's history, erase the gains we have made."
Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven said, "We all know that Donald Trump is a bully, but his attack on transgender children today is a new low. The U.S. Department of Education's decision to withdraw guidance clarifying the rights of transgender students endangers the well-being and safety of children across the country. Trump's actions do not change the law itself -- transgender students remain protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 -- but abandoning the guidance intentionally creates confusion about what federal law requires. The law bars discrimination -- the new administration invites it. Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary just one week ago. At her brief confirmation hearing she publicly committed to protecting LGBT students -- this harms them."
"Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it's OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans," added Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "We want to be clear to those kids: It is not OK with your teachers or with us at the AFT, and we will continue fighting to protect you."
And PFLAG executive director Elizabeth Kohm said, "PFLAG hearts everywhere are with the worried parents who will be kept awake tonight, and the kids who will be scared to go to school in the morning. Tomorrow we will fight even harder for the protections that Title IX still affords all transgender youth across the country."
The New York Timesreported today that DeVos was opposed to lifting the guidance, while Sessions supported doing so. White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that the two Cabinet members disagreed on the move. "There is no daylight between anybody," he said, according to the AP, contending that any differences involved questions of language and timing.
Transgender activists and allies plan to demonstrate outside the White House tonight. Gavin Grimm will be among the speakers. Find more information here.