(AP)

Trans students worry they're still a top target of President Trump's Education Department

“This is the first day of the president’s second month in office and he is now fully coming after LGBT people”


Sophia Tesfaye
February 22, 2017 12:05AM (UTC)

Weeks before President Donald Trump was sworn into office, transgender Americans began rushing to take advantage of additional protections put in place by the previous president because they feared an impending clampdown on their rights. Now it appears that their fears were far from unfounded, as the Trump administration has focused its target on a host of marginalized groups — including transgender people — during the president's first month in office.

Despite an early White House statement that President Trump has no plans to reverse LGBTQ protections for federal workers, transgender advocates are worried that changes are afoot.

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The Trump administration has approved a plan with the Justice Department and Education Department to send a letter to schools rescinding the Obama-era guidance to protect trans students, according to the Washington Blade — an LGBT publication — even though nearly two-thirds of trans students experience harassment at school. President of the Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin told the Blade:

Transgender young people face tragically high rates of discrimination and bullying, and they need a government that will stand up for them — not attack them. It’s shocking that this kind of harm would even be a subject of debate for the president. We call on Trump to immediately and permanently affirm the Obama Administration’s guidance and protect transgender students.

Last week, a group of LGBT employees in the Education Department sent a letter to newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to protect LGBT students. "These guidance documents," the open letter explained, "addressing important issues such as sexual violence prevention and response, bullying and harassment, and the needs and rights of transgender students, provide practical answers to schools on issues they face every day."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement to the Blade that the Trump administration's record so far on transgender student rights was “deeply disappointing.”

While the focus on bathrooms may seem petty and trivial, conservatives fear that if courts approve of the Obama administration’s interpretation of federal civil rights law, it could effectively expand existing civil rights protections that ban discrimination based on race and sex, among other traits, to explicitly include gender identity.

“This is the first day of the president’s second month in office and he is now fully coming after LGBT people,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade. “I’m angry; I’m outraged. This is about kids who just want to go to school who just want to be themselves . . . It’s just outrageous that he go after trans kids this way.”

A White House spokesperson did not confirm Keisling's allegations. “We have nothing to add to this report right now, but will keep you posted if anything changes,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love told the Blade.

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But even should Trump scale back on the transgender guidance greatly, Keisling told the Blade that students would still be able to sue under Title IX protections if they feel as though they have been discriminated against based on their gender identity.

“It doesn’t take away trans kids’ rights,” Keisling said. “It’s Title IX that protects us, not Donald Trump or Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions agreeing with us on Title IX.”

The Supreme Court next month will hear a discrimination case, brought by Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia teen who sued his school district after it denied him access to the boys’ restroom. The case revolves around if the Obama administration is entitled to interpret the Title IX ban on discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money to also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

How the highest court interprets the limits of the 1972 law will undoubtedly impact Civil Rights Act’s protections in the workplace and the Fair Housing Act’s provisions for housing — potentially widening the door open for increased protections for transgender Americans under the law, something the Trump administration appears hellbent on fighting.

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The Human Rights Campaign denounced the administration's reported plan, issuing a statement Monday evening. “Transgender young people face tragically high rates of discrimination and bullying, and they need a government that will stand up for them — not attack them,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “It's shocking that this kind of harm would even be a subject of debate for the president. We call on Trump to immediately and permanently affirm the Obama administration’s guidance and protect transgender students.”


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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