Justice Department Officially Withdraws Protections For Transgender Students

The White House argued President Obama's guidance for schools "did [not] undergo any formal public process."

Last evening, the Trump administration officially rescinded protections for transgender students put in place by Barack Obama.

In May 2016, President Obama and the departments of Education and Justice issued guidance to public schools that Title XI’s prohibitions on sex discrimination meant trans students must be allowed to use facilities that match their gender identity. While more than a dozen states sued over the directive, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor issued an injunction blocking its enforcement.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09:  Aidan Parisi, right, sits outside Woodrow Wilson High School on Monday June 09, 2014 in Washington, DC.  Members of Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated near the school on Monday.  The high school's principal, Pete Cahall recently told his school's students that he is gay.  (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Matt McClain/ The Washington Post

Earlier this month, the White House withdrew a request to limit O’Connor’s ruling, but Wednesday’s announcement makes the issue moot.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools, the administration said the guidance did not “explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process.”

The letter insisted, however, that “withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25:  (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security with Vice President Mike Pence (R) January 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. While at the department, Trump signed two executive orders related to internal security and to begin the process of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level,” the White House said in a statement.

“The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”

No alternative plan for supporting the rights and needs of transgender students has been put forward by the White House.

betsy devos

Surprisingly, sources indicate Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposed the plan to rescind Obama’s guidelines. DeVos said the administration has “a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment.”

“This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate,” she said in a statement. “At my direction, the department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”

CNN reports DeVos was summoned to the White House on Tuesday and was told to agree to the plan. “When the President tells you to do something you don’t want to do, that is a hard spot to be in,” a source told the network.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.