The Trump administration’s Education Department will no longer investigate complaints filed by transgender students who are kept from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, a department official told BuzzFeed News.
HuffPost previously reported that the Department of Education had already started telling students who submitted these complaints that the issue no longer fell within its jurisdiction, but this marks the first time an official has referenced a concrete policy change. The news comes almost a year after the departments of Justice and Education rescinded joint, Obama-era guidance that any school receiving federal money must treat a student’s gender identity as his or her sex, which included allowing individuals to use the bathroom conforming to their identity.
However, since that time, the Trump administration has been mum on information about how the Education Department’s civil rights division would officially handle these cases. In June, an internal memo from the department’s Office for Civil Rights told attorneys that these cases could be dismissed, but it was not necessarily a requirement. But a spokeswoman for the Department of Education told BuzzFeed that the administration does not interpret Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination, to cover these types of cases.
“Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” Liz Hill told BuzzFeed. “In the case of bathrooms, however, long standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”
Hill told the outlet that transgender student complaints could still be investigated, just not those centered around the use of intimate facilities.
The Obama administration interpreted Title IX to include discrimination based on gender identity. Notably, a wave of recent court decisions have also interpreted the law this way.
In January, HuffPost learned of at least three recent cases in which the Office for Civil Rights dismissed complaints filed by transgender students regarding access to bathrooms, locker rooms and gender specific sports teams. The Office for Civil Rights wrote back to complainants and said their office was no longer required to deal with this type of discrimination.
HuffPost also previously learned that the number of complaints filed with the Department of Education related to the treatment of transgender students dropped precipitously, by about 40 percent, between January 2016 through January 2017, and January 2017 through January 2018. At the time, advocates for LGBTQ students told HuffPost they worried that the Trump administration was having a chilling effect on the students who would otherwise submit complaints of discrimination.
Upon rescinding the Obama-era guidance last year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with a small group of transgender children and families to discuss issues facing this group of students. Vanessa Ford attended the meeting with her six-year-old transgender daughter, Ellie. During the meeting, DeVos mentioned that she had a young granddaughter, just like Ellie.
Ford told HuffPost that she found the news today “mind boggling.”
“We put our family at risk meeting with her in hopes it would make change. She now made the decision for the Department of Education that my daughter and thousands of daughters and sons shouldn’t have the protection her grandchildren should be afforded,” said Ford.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said that after the Trump administration first rescinded the student guidance last year, they saw school districts who had been supporting transgender students suddenly change course. She is now focused on making sure they feel supported and affirmed across the country.
“They are not alone,” said Byard. “It is ultimately most important right now every transgender student understands right now that this is wrong.”