DeVos's Education Dept. Officially Abandons Trans Students

Betsy DeVos

It’s been nearly a year since the Trump administration’s education department, led by billionaire Betsy DeVos, revoked Obama-era guidelines that urged public schools allow trans students use of facilities that align with their gender identities. Now, in addition to making schools potentially more harmful for trans kids, the Trump administration has confirmed that it won’t take action in cases in which transgender students are barred from using the restroom or locker room that coincides with their gender identity, Buzzfeed News reported. 

While the Trump administration rescinded guidelines for how schools can best accommodate trans students last February, it was slow to admit that it would do nothing to protect transgender students once the guidelines were pulled. In a memo a year ago, the Trump administration said it would “consider the legal issues involved,” a far cry from the news that it will refuse to investigate or hear complaints made by transgender students regarding the use of facilities. 

Although the Obama-era guidelines were non-binding, the administration did warn that schools not following them could be in violation of Title IX — the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex — and could stand to lose federal funding. While Obama was president, the Justice and Education departments also determined that Title IX covered discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which DeVos and the Trump administration refute. 

A spokesperson for the Education Department, Liz Hill, confirmed with Buzzfeed News that bathroom complaints made by trans students are not covered under Title IX. 

“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Hill said. She added that some types of complaints made by trans students will be covered under Title IX before reiterating the department’s stance on bathroom-related complaints. 

“Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” Hill said. “In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

Reaction was swift. The executive director of Equality Federation, Rebecca Isaacs said in a statement: 

"The Trump Administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people and our families just keep getting more cruel. It is unconscionable to tell youth that their complaints of discrimination won’t even be heard. Every student in America, including transgender students, should have a fair opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school! We want trans youth to know that they are loved and supported and we are fighting alongside them for equality. All of Equality Federation’s state-based member organizations, from Equality Florida to Equality Ohio to Equality California, are proud to support and celebrate transgender and nonbinary youth and their families. We will continue working to make sure every school, town, and state is inclusive and provides a level playing field for everybody."

Affirmation that the Education Department will not protect trans students is another blow the Trump administration has dealt to trans people since Donald Trump took office, beginning with the revocation of the guidelines for trans students less than a month after his inauguration. In July, Trump tweeted that he would ban trans people from serving in the military. This past fall the Justice Department released a memo instructing its attorneys to take the position that federal law does not protect trans workers from discrimination, and so much more. A list of all of Trump's anti-trans actions can be found at the National Center for Transgender Equality’s website. 

Responding to the administration’s announcement that it will not protect trans students, Democratic National Committee LGBTQ Media Director Lucas said in a statement: 

“In the last year, the Trump administration has rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ community, and today’s decision by Betsy DeVos is no different. By refusing to take action on complaints filed by transgender students denied the right to use bathrooms that match their gender identities, DeVos is willingly undermining Title IX and turning her back on individuals facing institutional discrimination.” 

The DNC then issued a warning that the administration is woefully out of touch with the voters as evidenced by the election of so many women, people of color, and LGBT people, including Danica Roem, a trans woman, elected in November to the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Despite the ouster of Virginia’s 'chief homophobe' by a transgender woman and losing the North Carolina governor’s mansion following backlash against the state’s “bathroom bill,” Republicans haven’t learned that their far-right, anti-LGBT agenda is out of step with Americans across the country who will hold them accountable come November,” Acosta wrote on behalf of the DNC. 

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