As the global LGBTQ+ community celebrates Pride month, the White House issued guidance reaffirming that federal law protects trans students.
On Tuesday, the Department of Education (DOE) released a notice of interpretation stating that transgender youth are protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational environments. According to the DOE, the definition of “sex” under the 49-year-old civil rights law encompasses “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” citing last year’s landmark SCOTUS ruling on anti-LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination.
The DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) “will fully enforce Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the department,” the guidance concludes.
The 13-page document released by the Biden administration is its strongest statement yet in support of transgender students. On President Joe Biden’s first day in office, he signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to apply the SCOTUS ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County to all forms of discrimination, including in education. The order’s third sentence affirms Biden’s commitment to equality for trans youth, referencing GOP-led efforts to prevent trans kids from accessing school sports or bathrooms in alignment with their gender identity.
“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” the order read.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) authored a three-page memo in March affirming the administration’s stance on Title IX, but according to the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE), that document did not actually set forth a new policy within the DOE. At the time, the agency said that it “would review existing regulations, orders, guidance, policies, and any other similar agency actions,” as NCTE Policy Director Ames Simmons told them. in an email.
In a statement, the national trans advocacy group lauded the formal declaration from the DOE as a “huge day for trans youth and the people who love them.”
“This is a day that transgender kids and their families have been waiting for,” said NCTE Deputy Executive Director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen. “Across the country, politicians have targeted transgender youth for discrimination at school. Now those same kids know that the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Education see them for who they really are and will defend their right to fully participate in school.”
But while Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told the New York Times that the guidance illustrates that the administration intends to “double down” on its support for transgender rights, the White House again stopped short of confirming that it would challenge anti-trans laws. In 2021, 7 states have passed laws barring transgender students from playing on the school sports team that corresponds with their lived identity, and two have limited access for gender-affirming care.
Advocates have previously called on the Biden administration to join lawsuits filed by groups like Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) seeking to prevent these laws from going into effect. Kimberly Shappley, the mother of a transgender 10-year-old called on the president to “step up and prevent [her] home from being ripped apart” in a May op-ed for them.
“We need people to fight for us, to keep children like Kai from being displaced any time their state decides to take away their ability to have families and communities that support them,” Shappley wrote, referencing a bill that could be revisited in an upcoming special session that would brand her as a “child abuser” for allowing her daughter to transition. “We need all the heroes we can get right now, and we particularly need them in the White House.”
As activists attempt to push the administration further in its commitment to justice, LGBTQ+ groups lauded the Biden administration for continuing to undo the harms of Donald Trump’s presidency. Within weeks of Trump taking office, his administration rolled back Obama-era guidance affirming that trans students should be treated in accordance with their gender identity in schools.
“All students deserve an education and learning environment where they can be themselves and be safe,” said Paul Castillo, counsel and students’ rights strategist for Lambda Legal in a statement. “LGBTQ students are protected against discrimination; it is the law, and there should be no confusion or doubt about it. … We look forward to OCR returning to the days where they take their obligation to protect all students, including LGBTQ students, seriously and vigorously enforce the law.”
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