The Department of Education said Wednesday transgender students are protected under a law prohibiting discrimination at federally funded schools, a shift in policy under President Joe Biden after his predecessor worked to undercut the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the agency would expand its interpretation of Title IX, the law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, to also protect students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The law applies to any school or activity offered by an institution that receives federal funds and is linked to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that extended protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination – and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections. I’m proud to have directed the Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX to protect all students from all forms of sex discrimination,” Cardona said in a statement. “Today, the Department makes clear that all students — including LGBTQ+ students — deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination.”
The move is the latest by the Biden administration to better protect trans Americans following former President Donald Trump’s efforts to marginalize the community. Biden has overturned Trump-era rules that limited transgender people’s ability to serve in the military and his administration withdrew its support for a lawsuit that sought to bar trans kids’ ability to compete in high school sports. The White House also said last month it would protect against discrimination in health care levied at transgender people.
Despite Biden’s efforts, Republicans have heavily targeted trans kids as part of 2021’s legislative agenda. The GOP has pushed dozens of bills across the country that mainly focus on two categories: Limiting access to health care for young transgender Americans or excluding them from school sports teams.
At least 19 states have already passed such laws, including Arkansas, Alabama, Montana and Tennessee. Republican-led legislatures are still pushing many more through, despite widespread outcry from human rights groups and medical associations.
The Education Department’s move on Wednesday was met with support from social justice groups.
“When kids and families feel safe to participate in school events, programs, sports and activities, they thrive,” Brian Bond, the executive director of PFLAG National, said in a statement. “PFLAG families everywhere can now rest easier knowing that these critical protections are in place for their children once again.”
Some, however, have called for further federal protection for LGBTQ Americans including the full passage of the Equality Act. The bill was passed by the House in February and would bar discrimination against people for sexual orientation and gender identity, but it faces a steep battle in the Senate.
“We are heartened to hear that this cruel neglect of our nation’s LGBTQ students has ended,” the Center for American Progress said in a statement; “But LGBTQ students still need the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act and ensure their protections are not simply ignored by a future administration.”