The Trump administration is gutting federal guidelines that protect trans students in schools


UPDATE: The White House formally rescinded federal bathroom access protections for transgender students in schools on Wednesday evening. In a statement, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos claimed that the protections were withdrawn because “this is an issue best solved at the state and local level.” You can read her full statement here.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed on Wednesday that the Trump administration will issue new guidelines about the rights of transgender students in schools. The new rules are widely expected to revoke an Obama administration guidance that protected the rights of trans students to use the bathroom which corresponds with their gender identity.

NBC News and Reuters both obtained a draft of the new guidance in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The letter outlines the new policy, which rescinds the departments’ former position on bathroom access.

The leaked letter points to ongoing legal cases around “bathroom bills,” concluding that the current guidelines have created confusion among school administrators, parents, and students:

This is a complete reversal of DOJ and DOE guidances under President Obama, which advised school districts that trans students’ rights are protected under Title IX non-discrimination laws.

The New York Times reported today, citing three Republican sources, that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had been reluctant to rescind the Obama policies but had bowed to the demands of both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump himself to either go along with the changes or resign.

But in his daily press briefing, Spicer denied any internal conflict over the issue, telling reporters that DeVos is “100 percent” on board with the change and any tension was a matter of timing and wording of the document. He also insisted that rolling back transgender students’ rights was “not a priority” for the administration.

The move from the Trump administration comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark trans rights case, Gloucester County School Board v Gavin Grimm, in which trans high school student Gavin Grimm is suing his Virginia school district for banning trans students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

The Department of Justice took its first steps to walk back the Obama-era guidelines last week, when it withdrew from a fight against a Texas court ruling that placed an injunction on the Obama rules.

Soon after, nearly 800 parents of transgender children from around the country signed a letter to President Trump asking him not to reverse the advisories, in the interest of protecting their children’s ability to be healthy and safe at school. The letter read:

Many of us find ourselves in school districts or states that are considering or have already adopted policies that single-out transgender students for discrimination. We know the devastating impacts these policies can have. 75 percent of transgender young people report feeling unsafe in school. One study found that more than fifty percent of transgender youth have attempted to commit suicide at least once in their lifetime. These policies are wrong, they hurt our children, and they violate the principle of equal protection.

Activists say that the change will have dire consequences for trans students in districts like Gloucester County–but that they don’t believe it fundamentally changes the fact that Title IX’s protections against sex-based discrimination include gender identity.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement, “trans students would still be protected under Title IX. But such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House.”

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