By Heather Pearson
The Education Department says it will no longer investigate or take action on discrimination cases filed by transgender students who are barred from using bathrooms which correspond to their gender identity.
Last February, the Education and Justice Departments withdrew Obama-era bathroom guidances for trans individuals. These previous guidances affirmed that Title IX regulations allow transgender students to use school facilities that match their gender identity. After withdrawing this, the Trump administration maintained that they would still “consider the legal issues involved” in these restroom cases, thus not yet putting forth a solidified position on the issue.
However, in June they stated it was “permissible” for transgender students’ cases to be rejected. Then in October, the Justice Department released a statement saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — a ban on sex discrimination at work — does not serve as a protection for trans folks. This statement marks the first time they have stated outright their intention to dismiss all cases about bathroom access brought forth by trans students.
According to Catherine Lhamon, lead of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under former President Obama, the new position is unlawful.
“This new categorical bar of civil rights protection for transgender children required to attend schools every day ignores the text of the law, courts’ interpretation of the law, the stated position of the Department to date and human decency,” she states.
Two federal appeals courts have previously upheld the right for trans students to access bathrooms matching their gender identity. Last May, in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, judges ruled that a policy which “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.”
Activists and advocates state that while Hill contends that “the law says” transgender students are not protected, the law actually has been in favor of these youth previously and that the administration’s position is not a reflection of legal understandings, but instead a reflection of LGBT discrimination.
“The facts now on the table are devastating, though by now unsurprising,” summed up Eliza Byard, director of an organization for LGBTQ students, to NPR. The “cruel new policy flies in the face of the highest court rulings on this issue, which found unequivocally that denying transgender students appropriate bathroom access is a violation of Title IX,” she continued.
Changes in the application of Title IX affect all schools, public and private. Previously Willamette’s position towards trans students has led to the installation of single-user and gender neutral bathrooms around campus. Recently, VP of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jade Aguilar hosted a trans and non-binary workshop on campus for faculty and staff “to deepen their understanding of trans and non-binary identities and learn best practices for working with students who hold those identities.” Workshop presenter Cath Busha covered topics such as understanding trans identities both binary and non-binary, inclusive language and pronouns and strategies to use in the classroom to be more inclusive.
In an invitation sent to staff and faculty for the event, Aguilar concluded, “Let’s hold ourselves accountable for learning and growing together as we challenge our inequities and work in partnership to make change happen.”