Lawmakers and educators from both sides of the aisle have come out strongly against the Trump administration’s decision to revoke the Obama-era policy protecting transgender students under Title IX by allowing them to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
The decision, announced Wednesday, was a major blow to trans and civil rights advocates, who viewed the federal guidance issued last May by the Department of Justice and Department of Education as an important step forward in affirming the dignity and humanity of transgender Americans. Trump’s move leaves the issue to the states.
GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida condemned it in a statement. “This lamentable decision can lead to hostile treatment of transgender students, and studies have shown that bullying and harassment can be detrimental to the emotional and physical well-being of students,” wrote Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son and has been an outspoken advocate of trans and LGBTQ rights. “Evidence has shown that acceptance of transgender students lowers their risk of suicide.”
Nearly 25 percent of transgender youth have attempted suicide, and 50 percent have seriously considered it, according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program.
John Fluharty, former executive director of the Delaware Republican Party, who is also openly gay, wrote in a statement to VICE News: “Almost a decade of federal court rulings and agency opinions have determined that Title IX’s protections against sex discrimination, along with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, apply to transgendered people. Why we’re even having this discussion is beyond me.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this week that President Trump believed that the matter of trans rights should be a state issue rather than a federal one. U.S. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement released Wednesday night said that the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX with regards to trans students was wrong.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten thinks it’s Trump who’s wrong on this. “The Trump administration is compromising the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable children. Children, not ideology, should be the priority,” Weingarten wrote, adding that LGBTQ kids often endure “a disproportionate amount of bullying and violence at school leading to increased levels of fear, anxiety, or worse.”
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia also commented, saying that Trump’s decision to rescind those protections for trans students was “dangerous, ill-advised, and unnecessary.” “We don’t teach hate, we do not tell people how to pray, we do not discriminate against people based on their religion, gender, or identity. Period,” Eskelsen Garcia wrote.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly voiced concerns about revoking the policy with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, citing the high rates of suicide among trans students, the New York Times reported Wednesday, but she ultimately decided to add her signature after pressure from the president. Her tweet expressing solidarity for the LGBTQ community Thursday morning was widely denounced as hypocritical.
Some Democratic lawmakers were also vocal in their criticism. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called the move a “shameful” and “horrible” decision.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey wrote that “no child should be afraid when they go to school,” and vowed to “continue to fight for the safety of all children.”
Officials from some states vowed to continue to protect the rights of transgender students and residents. Eighteen states, including Washington and New York, have laws protecting transgender students from discrimination or harassment in public schools. California passed a law in 2013 explicitly allowing students to use facilities consistent with their gender identities.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement Thursday that he would ensure his state’s protections were “enforced fairly and vigorously.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wrote that “Every student deserves to be treated equally in our schools. Trump is sending a message that discrimination is acceptable.”
Los Angeles School District Superintendent Michelle King wrote in a statement that trans students under her purview would “remain protected regardless of the new directive by the Trump administration.” Educators in several districts in Chicago echoed that stance.
And in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a link to an executive order he signed last year requiring all city agencies to ensure employees and the public have access to facilities consistent with their gender identity. “A new president will not change our values,” de Blasio wrote.
Meanwhile, many of those celebrating the decision characterized last May’s “Dear Colleague” letter as an example of federal overreach by the Obama administration that violated privacy expectations.