In yet another controversial move, last night, President Trump’s administration announced it’s retracting protections issued by President Obama which allowed transgender students to use the bathroom they identified with most.
Trump’s new policy will allow individual states to decide how to handle the issue. This news comes via a joint letter from the Justice Department and the Education Department, both of which are headed by newly confirmed AG Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, respectively.
The change is related to something called Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity (AKA public schools). In 2014, Obama’s team issued guidelines clarifying that this also applies to transgender students. Then in May of 2016 — after a controversial bill was passed in North Carolina which stated students must use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex issued on their birth certificate — Obama’s Department of Justice and Education fought back by issuing a letter stating transgender students should be able to use bathrooms that match their identity. While that letter did not impose a federal law, it did come with a low-key ultimatum: Comply with these guidelines or face the loss of federal funding.
In a statement about the most recent change, newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The prior guidance documents did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice, therefore have withdrawn the guidance.”
In a way, this amendment is in line with Trump’s tendency to favor state lawmaking over federal authority. It’s how he believes abortion laws should be mandated as well. The potential problem here is that this is likely to cause a more visible and dramatic divide between traditionally red and blue states. This also has the potential to make school bathrooms dangerous for transgender students who reside in conservative states or face a threat of severe bullying.
It’s worth mentioning that this change in belief is in direct opposition to what Trump has said on this issue in the past. Speaking about North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” on the Today Show last April, Trump told viewers, “North Carolina did something that was very strong and they’re paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems. I heard — one of the best answers I heard was one of the commentators saying, ‘Leave it the way it is.’ There have been very few problems, leave it the way it is […] People go, they use the bathroom that’s appropriate, there has been so little trouble.”
Matt Lauer follow up on that and asked Trump, “If Caitlyn Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her any bathroom she chooses?” Trump replied, “That is correct.”
A report by The New York Times claims that yesterday’s decision wasn’t initially supported by all parties involved. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was on board to rescind Obama’s guidelines, but he needed the Department of Education to also sign off on the change. That department’s Secretary, the newly confirmed Betsy DeVos, was not initially in favor.
The Times reports, “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.”
But according to these three unnamed Republicans close to the internal discussions, Sessions reportedly let Trump know that DeVos was not on board with the change which then, reportedly, led to Trump telling DeVos to change her mind.
Just as a reminder, this is not an executive order — it was always ultimately up to the states to decide, but now this decision is publicly supported by the Executive Branch. Students in notoriously democratic states will likely still allow students to use their bathroom of choice. But for those in states like North Carolina, this revision poses a serious threat and uncertain dangers for transgender students who might feel as though this is a major step backward in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
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(Photos via Getty)