In one of the most divisive actions to date, the Trump administration Wednesday reversed an Obama-era policy protecting the rights of transgender students, opening the door to discrimination and bullying against young transgender people.
Last May former President Barack Obama issued guidance to public schools that stated they should let transgender students use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. According to the Obama administration, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” includes transgender people.
The Trump administration said that Obama’s guidance contains no legal basis for its interpretation that Title IX extends to protections of transgender people. According to the administration, the issue should be left up to the states to decide.
Civil rights and state leaders had strong reactions and raised concerns about what this could mean for transgender students.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement that transgender people would continue to be protected in his state, despite the new administration’s interpretation of Title IX.
“President Trump’s decision to rescind anti-discrimination protections for transgender students is yet another cruel move by an administration committed to divisive policies that roll back the clock on civil rights,” Schneiderman said.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), questioned, “What could possibly motivate a blind and cruel attack on young children like this?”
“These transgender students simply want to go to school in the morning without fear of discrimination or harassment,” Griffin said. “The consequences of this decision will no doubt be heartbreaking. This isn’t a ‘states rights’ issue, it’s a civil rights issue. Children deserve protection from bullying no matter what state they live in. Period.”
“We all know that Donald Trump is a bully, but his attack on transgender children today is a new low,” said Rachel Tiven, chief executive of Lambda Legal.
Despite claims from President Donald Trump and his team that he is committed to protecting LGBT rights, actions such as reversing these transgender protections speak to a different narrative.
“Revoking the guidance shows that the president’s promise to protect LGBT rights was just empty rhetoric,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project.
Individual states have historically made sharply different decisions when it comes to LGBT rights. HRC previously reported that, in 2016 alone, at least 44 anti-transgender bills were filed in 16 different states.
According to the Trump administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, “withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment.”
Discrimination under the guise of religious freedom would be acceptable “without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government,” according to a draft executive order.
However, LGBT discrimination remains a large problem. According to a 2015 HRC poll, 63 percent of LGBT people have reported experiencing discrimination. And a 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that 58 percent of LGBT Americans have been subjected to jokes or slurs due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Oral arguments are set to begin in March for G.G. versus Gloucester County School Board, a Supreme Court case involving transgender high school student Gavin Grimm. Grimm is suing school officials after he was rejected from using the boys’ bathroom at his high school.
At protests outside the White House Wednesday night Grimm said to activists, “I’ve faced my share of adversaries in rural Virginia. I never imagined that my government would be one of them. We will not be beaten down by this administration.”
Trump has made several decisions during his first month in office that have raised concerns from the LGBT community. Earlier this month, a leaked draft of a “religious freedom” executive order, obtained by The Nation, would legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs “without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government.”
The order, “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” covers a broad spectrum, allowing for discrimination not just in places of worship but in “all activities of life.” The text states, vaguely, “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their consciences.”