Feb. 23, 2017 – Ryan Thoreson is Bernstein Fellow, Human Rights Watch
The Trump administration is putting transgender children in harm’s way by withdrawing guidance issued by the Obama administration that instructs schools in the United States to respect the gender identity of students.
The guidance, issued last year by the Departments of Justice and Education, affirmed that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination against transgender students. It specified that schools receiving federal funding must ensure students can access bathrooms and locker rooms and participate in the school environment consistent with their gender identity.
Twenty-one states sued the Justice Department and a federal court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction that prevented the guidance from taking effect. The day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions took office, the Justice Department announced it was reconsidering its defense of the guidance.
In interviews last year for a report on harassment and bullying of LGBT kids in the US, I heard dozens of stories explaining why these protections are so important to transgender students. Students in schools without protections described how they faced physical, verbal, and sexual harassment; struggled with the psychological repercussions of exclusion; became dehydrated and experienced health problems because they avoided drinking water and using bathrooms; were outed as transgender to teachers and peers; and missed out on educational and extracurricular opportunities.
Recognizing these serious issues, many schools across the US are enacting protections for transgender kids. The US Supreme Court is set to weigh in on the scope of Title IX this spring, when it reviews a ruling that affirmed a transgender boy’s right to access boys’ facilities at his school in Virginia.
With this announcement, the Trump administration has failed LGBT youth. Now, more than ever, it is important that every school district take steps to prohibit bullying and discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sending a clear message that their transgender students exist, are valued and are owed the same facilities and opportunities as any other kid.