Last Wednesday, in the latest development in the so-called “bathroom debate,” President Trump rolled back protections for transgender students that allowed them to use whichever bathroom corresponds to their gender identity, rather than to their biological sex. According to Trump, the protections, put into place under the Obama administration, were not issued appropriately. He wrote instead that it should be up to each individual state and school district to decide its own bathroom policy.
The issue of transgender bathroom access first took the national spotlight last March, when North Carolina passed a bill declaring that everyone must use the bathroom that matches the sex listed on their birth certificates. The “bathroom bill” caused widespread anger and cost North Carolina millions of dollars in lost revenue after several professional sports events were cancelled in protest of the state’s policies. In May, President Obama declared that students should be able to use whichever bathroom they prefer, citing Title IX, which prevents discrimination in public schools. Under the Obama administration, schools which did not comply would be faced with losing their federal funding.
Trump’s reversal of Obama’s position came without approval from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who voiced her concern that lifting the protections could potentially cause harm to transgender students. On Wednesday, DeVos, a supporter of gay and transgendered rights, reminded schools of their obligation to protect the safety of every student by fighting against all forms of discrimination, bullying, and harassment.
While social conservatives cheered Trump’s decision, gay rights supporters expressed concern that this could open the door to even more discrimination against gay and transgender youth.
Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Supporters of transgender rights believe that this law protects transgender students by allowing them to use whichever locker room or restroom best matches their gender identity (rather than their biological sex at birth). According to the Trump administration, however, the bathroom issue is a matter for the states to decide, not the federal government.
Related Link: Read more about Title IX protections from the Department of Education.
On March 28, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case filed by a Virginia high school senior, who sued his school board when he was forced to use the restroom that corresponded to his biological sex rather than to his gender identity. His lawyers argue that the district’s bathroom policy is sex discrimination, and thus violates Title IX. A federal appeals court, guided at the time by Obama’s position on the issue, upheld the student’s right to use the restroom of his choosing. However, now that Obama’s policy has been reversed, the Supreme Court must decide whether to send the case back or to make a judgment themselves about whether or not Title IX applies. If this happens, the shorthanded Court could likely deadlock 4 to 4. Either way, the so-called “bathroom debate” is far from over.
About 150,000 American teenagers ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender.