Trump administration backs off Title IX protections for trans students

Sign for a gender neutral bathroom. (Photo credit: Mike Gifford via Flickr / Creative Commons)

Transgender youth are left in the lurch after the Trump administration rolled back guidance to public schools this week regarding Title IX protections from discrimination. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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In another reversal of Obama-era policy, the Trump administration rescinded federal protections for transgender students this week. In a joint letter to U.S. public school administrators, the Departments of Justice and Education said that counter to what they were told last May, schools are not required to provide trans youth with access to facilities that correspond with their gender identity under Title IX – the federal law that prevents sexual discrimination in education.

“This is, on a practical level, going to cause real harm,” says Ilona Turner, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. According to Turner, for the past 15 years the vast majority of courts have recognized that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination because the two are inextricably linked.

Refusing to provide trans youth access to facilities that align with their gender, she says, sends a stigmatizing message to the entire school community: “That really denies that student an equal education – just as a practical matter. So courts have found over and over again that schools have treat transgender boys like all other boys, and they have to treat transgender girls like all other girls.”

The effects extend beyond bathrooms. Nineteen-year-old Violet Martinez is Vice President of Trans Woman Empowerment Initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The recent high school graduate explains how the discrimination she faced as a student affected her very access to education.

“I never felt safe on campus, so I think it’s not just having access to the restrooms on campus, but it’s also reinforcing policies and guidelines against bullying,” Martinez says. “I noticed that it went far more over from just peers bullying me to actual administration, centering me and targeting me as a form of discrimination, because I was missing school due to being bullied by my peers, which then got administration to contact me and bring me into their office, and then threaten me with suspension and expulsion for missing class.”

The DOJ/DOE letter specifically states that the federal government believes education policy in this context is best left to the states. Only fifteen states have explicit laws on the books making clear that discrimination against trans students is illegal.

On the other hand, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures at least 14 states are currently considering measures to explicitly restrict access to multi-user restrooms based on biological sex; eight of them are looking at school specific measures.

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