On Wednesday, the Departments of Education and Justice jointly issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, withdrawing Obama era guidelines dictating that U.S. schools allow transgender students access to facilities – such as bathrooms and locker rooms — matching the students’ “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.
With the publishing of this letter, the question of how to handle access to bathrooms and locker rooms while balancing privacy concerns for all students is now up to individual states and school districts. The letter included a promise from the Department of Education to hear discrimination claims and “ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
Even before the letter was published, controversy began to broil over. The New York Times reported yesterday that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was initially opposed to rolling back the Obama guidelines but was ultimately convinced by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to support the move. CNN also later reported that DeVos “asked for additional language to put in the letter that affirmed students would still be protected and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights would investigate issues.” Today, however, DeVos released a statement strongly supportive of the letter.
Beyond changing the federal government’s own policies, the new guidance also seems likely to affect a number of court cases currently pending which relate to the issue. Now in question, for example, is the Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina, which originated under President Obama and claimed that the state’s House Bill 2 violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. The Trump administration seems likely to drop that lawsuit shortly; however, the ACLU has said will proceed with their own lawsuit along the same lines and has criticized the new guidance. They’re not alone – the Human Rights Campaign immediately condemned the Trump decision as well.
However, the new guidance has received praise from a number of conservatives, including The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson:
The Trump administration is doing the right thing in correcting Obama’s unlawful overreach, which imposed a one-sided solution on all 50 states. Parents and teachers in local schools now can work to find win-win solutions that protect the dignity, privacy, and safety of all students.[…]
While the Obama administration attempted to rewrite law to impose a federal “gender identity” policy on the entire nation, the Trump administration is respecting federalism, local decision-making, and parental authority in education.
For most Americans, concerns related to transgender students are a new reality. Rather than follow the Obama administration’s rush to impose a top-down solution on the entire country, the Trump administration is allowing the American people to have these conversations, consider all the relevant concerns, and make policies that will best serve all Americans.
While controversy is likely to continue, Trump supporters will be pleased the president has acted to fulfill another campaign promise, returning decision-making on this important issue back into the hands of the people most closely impacted.
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