Report: Trump Administration Signals Backpedal on Justice for Transgender Students, Failing to Pursue Discrimination Complaints

By Shane Stahl • January 16, 2018 • 5:13 pm

The Trump administration has dismissed at least three complaints in the past several months from transgender students alleging discrimination in their school districts, according to a report released January 16 by The Huffington Post.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) contends that it does not have jurisdiction over these issues, and that decisions should be made at the local level. An agency letter obtained by The Huffington Post states, in part:

“OCR determined we do not have subject matter jurisdiction…insomuch as the alleged discriminatory conduct you described does not raise any prohibitive bases under the civil rights laws OCR enforces.”

In February 2017 the Trump Administration formally rescinded federal guidelines on how public schools can best ensure dignity for transgender students. Those guidelines, issued by the Obama Administration, underlined that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (which bars discrimination based on sex) also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. But as of June, internal memos from the Office for Civil Rights noted that complaints from transgender students about restroom restrictions should be taken seriously. Today’s report is a signal that the Trump Administration is retreating from the message in those internal memos.

The reality is that discrimination based on gender identity and expression is prohibited by Title IX – and each month that legal consensus grows as more judges interpret “sex discrimination” to include anti-transgender discrimination.

In this case, the OCR’s dismissals of transgender students’ discrimination go contradicts several recent court decisions protecting transgender students, including a landmark ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which found a school’s anti-transgender restroom policy to violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.  Just a few days ago the Transgender Law Center case, Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, was settled, awarding plaintiff Ash Whitaker $800,000.

OCR reports that from January 2017 to January 2018, discrimination complaints by transgender students have fallen by 40 percent. However, advocates believe this trend is due to students believing that the department will not protect them.

“This is not surprising, but it does seem to me consistent with the idea that students who are facing discrimination, who really are suffering in their ability to get an education, don’t believe that OCR will protect them,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.


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