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Feds Say They Will No Longer Investigate Transgender Bathroom Complaints

Trump: putting the “T” in LGBT discrimination.

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The Education Department confirmed on Monday that it will no longer be investigating complaints from transgender students who are banned from school bathrooms. This move comes as the latest of the Trump administration’s various moves to undermine LGBT rights and protections.

“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said to The Washington Post. “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. In the case of bathrooms, however, longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

Trump’s cabinet in March 2017 during their first meeting. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Obama administration in 2016 had directed public schools to allow students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, even if that conflicted with the gender on their birth certificates. The administration concluded that barring transgender students from public school bathrooms was a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX.

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the guidance, arguing that Title IX did not obligate schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

DeVos also said states and individual school districts should be able to determine how to accommodate transgender students. a move that was widely decried by civil rights groups who said it could endanger the welfare of transgender students. 

The move was heavily criticized by civil rights groups who said it could endanger the welfare of transgender students.

Previously, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had also withdrawn a policy protecting transgender workers, even going as far as to argue that anti-gay discrimination was permissible in employment under federal law.

Sessions had also argued religious business owners can refuse service to gay customers, even when anti-gay discrimination is banned by state law, and Trump has attempted to ban transgender people from all military service, according to Buzzfeed.

Catherine Lhamon, who headed the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under President Barack Obama, called the department’s statement “appalling and deeply dangerous.”

“The federal courts have multiple times made clear that Title IX protects transgender students,” Lhamon said to The Washington Post. “They just don’t have the option to say, ‘We just don’t apply the law here.’”

Last year after ending the Obama-era protections, DeVos had written that the withdrawal of these guidance documents did not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment.

However, advocates worry that the administration’s position will send a message to schools without clear policies that they should bar transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

“The vast number of schools in our country are schools led by teachers and principals and administrators who want to do the best for children but this will just be confusing,” said Vanessa Ford, the mother of a transgender girl in the first grade who attends school in the Boston area to The Washington Post. “They hear this and think, ‘Wait, am I no longer allowed to support trans kids at our school?’ ”

I'm an aspiring journalist from Istanbul, Turkey and am currently a junior at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. My work has appeared in Visit Seattle, Discover SLU, Washington State Visitors Guide and Ms. Magazine. I'm currently an editorial intern at Psychology Today.

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