President Donald Trump’s administration has canceled a landmark guidance issued to public schools in defense of transgender student rights, reversing course on a signature initiative of former Democratic President Barack Obama.
The Obama guidelines had already been put on hold by a federal judge after 13 states sued, but the Trump administration withdrew them.
Even without that hold, the guidance carried no force of law. But transgender rights advocates said it was useful and necessary to protect students from discrimination.
The Justice and Education departments will continue to study the legal issues involved, according to the new, superseding guidance that will be sent to public schools across the country.
Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Mr. Trump’s November 8 election.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the White House was pressed to act now because of the pending US Supreme Court case, GG versus Gloucester County School Board.
That case pits a Virginia transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, against officials who want to deny him use of the boys’ room at his high school.
Although the Justice Department is not a party in the case, it typically would want to make its views heard.
The federal law in question, known as Title IX, bans sex discrimination in education. But it remains unsettled whether Title IX protections extend to a person’s gender identity.
Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Obama guidelines “did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX.”
He also said Congress, state legislatures, and local governments were better-placed to address the issues than the executive branch.
“The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment,” Mr. Sessions said.
State vs. federal rights
The Obama administration’s guidance was based on its determination that Title IX also applied to gender identity.
Republicans pushed back against that directive, arguing the federal effort was an example of the Obama administration meddling in state and local matters.
The reversal would be a major setback for transgender rights groups, which had been urging Mr. Trump to keep the safeguards in place.
“By rescinding these protections, the Trump administration is compromising the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable children,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.
“Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”
Conservative activists hailed the change, saying the directives were illegal and violated the rights of fixed gender students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using restroom next to anatomical males.
“Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues,” said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy.
“It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity.”