The Department of Education told BuzzFeed News on Monday that they will no longer investigate or take action to protect transgender students who are denied access to the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The Department has yet to release an official statement.
An agency spokesperson confirmed that Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration do not believe they have a duty under Title IX to protect transgender students from discrimination with regards to restrooms in publicly funded educational institutions. Title IX mandates that any education institution receiving federal funding not discriminate on the basis of sex, safeguarding equal access to education.
The Education and Justice Departments have not yet announced when they stopped considering complaints from transgender students or how many complaints have been rejected, but Huffington Post reports at least three recently dismissed cases. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, approximately 150,000 teenagers 13 to 17 identify as transgender.
A year ago the Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued a joint letter rescinding Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students access to whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity. The letter claimed that the Obama administration had not sought proper legal analysis or provided appropriate explanation for why these protections were guaranteed under Title IX, adding that states and local school districts should be responsible for crafting education policy. Since the letter was issued, complaints over the treatment of transgender students have dropped over 40 percent, as many students feel that advocating for their civil rights would be pointless under the Trump administration.
But two federal appeals courts have already ruled that transgender students’ access to restrooms is protected under Title IX. In May, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Wisconsin school district violated a transgender student’s civil rights under Title IX when they barred him from using the boys’ bathroom. The judge stated, “A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non-conformance, which in turn violates Title IX.”
The decision not to protect transgender students from discrimination in education comes as Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice argue that Title VII does not protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. However, a growing number of courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have determined that Title VII can protect LGBT individuals from discrimination due to the notion that firing an employee as a result of their nontraditional physical appearance or sexual preference amounts to prejudice.
In January, the Trump administration announced the creation of a new division at the Department of Health and Human Services that seeks to defend healthcare workers who choose to discriminate against LGBT patients on moral or religious grounds. Under these protections, health workers will be able to refuse to provide care for transgender patients, gay or lesbian patients, or women who have had abortions.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/23/17, 6/7/17, 7/31/17, 1/23/18; BuzzFeed News 2/12/18; Huffington Post 2/12/18