PREVIEWING THE Trump administration’s decision to rescind federal protections for transgender students, White House spokesman Sean Spicer explained that the issue is not “something that the federal government should be involved in, this is a states’ rights issue.” It was a rather startling position given that what is at issue is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. That this administration seems to accept no responsibility in the law’s fair application harks back to a dark time in our nation’s history when the rights of individuals were determined by where they live.
A joint letter sent Wednesday from officials at the Justice and Education departments told the nation’s schools to disregard guidance issued last year by the Obama administration regarding their obligations to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination by sex for schools receiving federal funds. The Obama administration said the law applies to gender identity, and “this means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.” Requiring transgender students to use facilities that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates, Obama officials determined, would be a violation.
The nonbinding guidance has been in abeyance since a judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit brought by 13 states. Shortly after Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general, the Justice Department decided to drop its challenge to that injunction. On Wednesday, it notified the Supreme Court of its change in posture in a case brought by a transgender student in Virginia, Gavin Grimm, who has been barred from using the boys’ bathroom at his school. The Gloucester County student had used the boys’ facilities without problem or incident until the school board let itself be swayed by the irresponsible fear-mongering that too often is directed at transgender people.
Indeed, there was a time when President Trump himself seemed able to see through this hysteria, expressing support for the rights of transgender people to “use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate” and saying Caitlyn Jenner was welcome to use whatever bathroom at Trump Tower she wanted. That he apparently overrode the objections of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in endorsing the rollback of protections will inflict needless suffering on transgender students, a vulnerable population already subjected to harassment and bullying.
“No young person should wake up in the morning fearful of the school day ahead” was the poignant plea from more than 1,000 parents of transgender students. “When this guidance was issued last year, it provided our families — and other families like our own across the country — with the knowledge and security that our government was determined to protect our children from bullying and discrimination.”
In abdicating its federal responsibility, the Trump administration sends the reprehensible message that these students are now on their own.
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