In March 2016, North Carolina passed HB2, known as the “bathroom bill,” which required transgender individuals to use the public bathrooms that matched the sex on their birth certificates. In May, the Obama administration struck against HB2 because they felt it violated Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendment of 1972 which prohibits the discrimination of students based on sex. Therefore, they put forth strict guidelines that urged public schools to allow transgender kids to use the bathroom of their choice without restraint – or they will lose federal funding.
Although a Texas federal judge put a hold on those guidelines after 13 states sued shortly after it was issued, it was rumored on Monday that the Trump administration was planning to withdraw the federal transgender protections for students put in place by Obama’s administration entirely, and on Tuesday The Washington Post got their hands on a leaked draft planning it’s Wednesday’s release. Wednesday nearly came and went without the letter being issued and that was very unexpectedly due to Betsy DeVos – the current U.S. Secretary of Education despite extreme controversy.
Per the New York Times, when DeVos initially received the draft of the Trump administration’s plan for withdrawing the previous guidelines, she “resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it.” A letter of approval for this type of issue must be sent from both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice – led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is known to be passionately strong in his stand against transgender rights. Betsy expressed her opposition to the plan to Sessions and after a meeting on Tuesday with Trump, who sided with Sessions, she was forced to agree to the guidance that was released late Wednesday evening. DeVos attempted to remind Trump of the promises they made publicly to protect all students and, though she could not stop the withdrawing act, her request to include a provision that affirms the protection of students in the letter was granted. Moreover, the new guidance states that the withdrawal of the Obama-era guidelines, “does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment.”
Although Mrs. DeVos’s stances and opinions on most educational issues have appeared to be horrible and uneducated, she appears to be dedicated to the fight against hostility towards transgender individuals. In the past, she has been accused of holding opposition towards the rights of those within the LGBTQ+ community due to the actions of her extended family members but has continued in her efforts to distance herself from that outlook. For example, despite her family’s contributions to a ballot initiative in Michigan that was aimed to ban same-sex marriages in 2004, DeVos and her husband did not join in making contributions. After her confirmation hearing in January, she urged senators to not confuse her beliefs with that of her family’s, “I embrace equality and I firmly believe in the intrinsic value of each individual, and that every student should have the assurance of a safe and discrimination-free place to become educated. A few days later, a DeVos family friend told BuzzFeed News that she supported same-sex marriage.
Crazy enough, the new guidance administered by the Trump administration doesn’t replace the old ones; it just removes them with the slight aid of anti-discrimination consequence reassurance – thanks to Mrs. DeVos – and causes the ongoing bathroom debate scandal to remain a “states’ rights issue.” While it is very uncertain what the results of this action by the Trump administration may produce in the long-run, this ruling comes just a little over a month before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the Gavin Grimm case (March 28). Gavin is a 17-year-old transgender student from Virginia who is suing his high school for not letting him use the boy’s bathroom. Last April, a lower court used the guidelines put in place by the Obama administration to side with Gavin, but regardless of the new announcement, Title IX and state-level protections for transgender students remain. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will interpret Title IX in regards to transgender students.