Newly-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has already undermined transgender student rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Education under newly-appointed Secretary Betsy DeVos has done just what many LGBTQ advocates feared; it withdrew the Obama administration’s guidance issued last May that protected the rights of transgender students in public schools. The guidance was controversial at the time, leading to a lawsuit against the administration led by Texas and including eleven other states.

The letter rescinding the guidance essentially sides with these states that objected to the guidance initially.

“These guidance documents do not, however, contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process,” reads the letter, signed by representatives of the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). “There must be due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

In North Carolina, regard for the state’s policies unquestionably leads to House Bill 2 (HB2), the controversial legislation passed last year that prohibited LGBTQ non-discrimination protections and mandated that transgender people use public facilities according to their birth sex.

HB2 has caused much upheaval among activists on behalf of transgender students who now face an impossible choice every time they have to pee. On the national level, LGBTQ advocates are speaking out against the DeVos DOE’s letter.

“Secretary DeVos has caused completely unnecessary fear and confusion among transgender students and their families by rescinding the Department’s guidance,” read a joint statement by Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, and Beth Kohm, Interim Executive Director of PFLAG National. “Those families and students need to know that they have the same rights today under Title IX as they had yesterday.”

In the interest of progress, PFLAG and GLSEN have re-launched their 2009 #ClaimYourRights campaign. The campaign is designed to encourage and aid the filing of complaints concerning school anti-transgender discrimination with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“Secretary DeVos clearly needs to better understand the extent of the daily pain and real barriers to wellbeing that the original Departmental guidance was designed to address and eliminate,” the joint statement read. “The #ClaimYourRights Campaign began a new phase of advocacy and dialogue with the Department of Education that eventually led to the issuance of the clarifying Title IX guidance rescinded yesterday.”

The organizations hope to continue that advocacy and dialogue in spite of the backwards step in the fight for transgender rights. So, too, will the ACLU, representing clients challenging HB2 in court.

“Obviously, it was exceptionally important to have Attorney General Loretta Lynch stand up and talk about how measures like HB2 harm members of the LGBT community and are inconsistent with our principals and our civil rights laws,” ACLU North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook told WFAE. “But our lawsuit and the constitutional claims that we brought up are not dependent in any way on the Department of Education or the Trump administration.”

The road to progress is more rocky than before. Nevertheless, advocates for LGBTQ rights will not stand down.