In yet another horrible turn of events for transgender rights in this country, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era policy that protected the rights of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
The Washington Post reports that the federal Education and Justice departments instructed the Supreme Court Wednesday night to ignore the memos from the previous administration that said that preventing transgender students from using the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity is a violation of anti-discrimination laws.
The “Dear Colleagues” letter that will be sent to public schools nationwide offers no guidance to the schools, but explains that the protections were lifted because they weren’t publicly vetted, lacked proper legal analysis and “drew legal challenges,” the Post reports.
The decision to roll back these protections was at the center of a debate between U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the New York Times reports. Sessions pushed for quick action against the protections, due to pending court cases like that of Gavin Grimm, the Virginia teenager whose battle to use the boys’ bathroom has been ongoing for two years.
Sources tell the Times that DeVos was apparently reluctant to sign off on the letter because she feared the “potential harm” that revoking these protections would cause to transgender students. The issue was then escalated to the White House where Trump took Sessions’ side and DeVos eventually had to give in.
A statement from DeVos’s office states that protecting students in America is “not merely a federal mandate but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate” but the issue at hand is “best solved at the state and local level.”
While the letter issued to schools offered no actionable solution or course of direction regarding this new change, the language was clear enough with regards to bullying. “Schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment,” it reads. “Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment.” I would say that this is a silver lining, but I will defer to Catherine Lhamon, the head of Obama Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. From the Post:
In a kindergarten class where students line up by gender to go to the bathroom, she said, “a student has to decide which line to get into and the teacher has to decide which line to accept that student into, and both of them have to field questions from other students in the class,” Lhamon said in an interview. “Any of those choices raises potential for discrimination and potential for harm that all of the students and teachers in a school have to navigate. It’s not an abstraction for the people who live it every day.”
The headline has been edited to reflect that the Trump Administration and not Donald Trump himself lifted the federal protections for transgender students’ bathroom use. Jezebel regrets the error.