Less than a year ago, the administration of President Barack Obama issued an historic guidance document instructing school administrators that anti-transgender rules, regulations, and laws are in violation of federal law including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This guidance was received the full-throated support of U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta (head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division). Read some of their powerful statements HERE.
This evening, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this evening that they were rescinding the guidance. According to reporting by the New York Times, Sessions was eager to get rid of the protections for transgender students and Ms. DeVos was not:
The question of how to address the bathroom debate, as it had become known, opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. […]
But Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.[…]
Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.
In her press release, DeVos had this to say:
We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.
The guidance issued by the previous administration has given rise to several legal questions. As a result, a federal court in August 2016 issued a nationwide injunction barring the Department from enforcing a portion of its application. Since that time, the Department has not enforced that part of the guidance, thus there is no immediate impact to students by rescinding this guidance.
This is an issue best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students.
I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.
We owe all students a commitment to ensure they have access to a learning environment that is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.
Suffice it to say that the rescinding of the guidance will NOT make the “legal questions” go away. And, as trans advocate and activist Amy Hunter from the ACLU puts it, “To be clear, protections for transgender students aren’t a “States’ Rights” issue. It’s about enforcing a federal law -Title IX – as well as dignity and respect for all students, no matter who they are.”
You can read the Trump administration’s new guidance HERE.
This is a huge blow to some of the most vulnerable people in our country. The rate of violence to and the rate of suicide among trans kids is extraordinarily high. This decision will return them to a situation where they live in fear – legitimate fear – of bullying and physical assaults. This is not debatable.
Betsy DeVos had a choice to make: keep her job so she can promote her anti-public school agenda or stand up for transgender students. She made her choice and transgender kids will pay the price.
I encourage you to read this post by my friend Peter Tchoryk, the father of a young transgender son. Published less than a day before tonight’s step backwards by Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, it’s a powerful reminder of how this decision will impact real people and the children of so many parents. He finishes his powerful essay with this:
[I]t does not have to be this way. For many of us, our worldview has been shaped by interpretations of religious doctrine, long-held biases, and fears built on misconceptions and misinformation.
Let us challenge these interpretations and traditions rooted in biases and irrational fears. Let us adjust our worldview when we grow and learn the truth. Let us treat others as we want to be treated and stand up for equality and equity. Let us, in the words of Dr. King, ”develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
I believe we have a moral obligation to do so.
It is not the easiest path. It may be the hardest. To do what is difficult, in spite of the pain. To do what is right, in spite of the cost. But if we take this path — if we teach our kids these simple, self-evident truths — we will make this world a better, safer place for all.
When it came to choosing between a difficult path and the easiest path, Betsy DeVos chose the easy way.
[CC image credit: Paradox | Wikimedia Commons]