Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, demanding that they release documents related to the withdrawal of guidelines on how schools should treat transgender students.
The departments “pulled the rug out from under transgender students, leaving them even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. We need to know why,” said Susan Sommer, associate legal director and director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, in a press release.
The Education and Justice departments have failed to comply with a request for the documents that Lambda filed in March under the Freedom of Information Act. The request included “correspondence with any groups outside the government, communications with the President’s staff, and instructions to staff about how to handle inquiries and complaints about discrimination, bullying and harassment based on gender identity or transgender status,” according to Lambda’s press release. The departments acknowledged receiving the request but provided no information by the April deadline or in response to Lambda’s appeals.
In February, a month after Donald Trump became president, the departments withdrew the guidance, which had been issued in 2016 under President Barack Obama’s administration. The nonbinding guidance advised schools on how to treat trans students so as to avoid violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination by schools that receive federal funding. During the Obama administration, the departments held that this law also banned discrimination based on gender identity.
The guidance recommended that schools use trans students preferred names and pronouns, and allow them access to restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity. It also provided clarification on dress codes, privacy, and protection from bullying and harassment.
The documents requested by Lambda include an unpublished opinion letter written in January 2015 by James Ferg-Cadima, acting deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, notes The Hill. It outlines how Title IX applies to gender identity, according to Lambda, countering claims by the current leadership at the Education and Justice departments that previous leaders had failed to provide sufficient explanation.
The U.S. Supreme Court cited withdrawal of the guidance in reversing its decision to hear the case of Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm in his lawsuit against his school district for denying him access to the boys' restroom. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had based its decision in favor of Grimm partly on the guidance, so the high court sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit to be considered in light of Title IX alone.
Lambda filed its suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.