Doors Closing on Transgender Students

Justice Department withdraws protections of transgender students’ rights

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Illustration by Kelly Leung
Illustration by Kelly Leung

Transgender students across the nation are being threatened for something as simple as using the bathroom.

On March 28 the U.S. Supreme Court was set to deliberate on the case of a transgender boy in Virginia whose high school barred him from using the boys’ bathroom, but with the rollback on trans rights by the Trump administration, the case has been thrown out. This leaves thousands of transgender students across the country open to harassment.

Transgender student Gavin Grimm found himself at the center of this debate after being barred from using the bathroom associated with his gender identity at his high school in Gloucester, Virginia in 2014. A public debate in the town sparked an ongoing legal battle and the case moved to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will not hear arguments on his case. This decision followed the release of a letter by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) on Feb. 22 halting protections for trans students, stating the issue should be resolved at the state level.

Policing transgender and gender nonconforming individuals is a heinous and misguided act by our government. Individual concern should not overpower hard evidence that shows transgender students are put in harm’s way by forcing them to use the bathroom of their biological gender. The act of using the restroom should not cause distress or harm to anyone.

The Obama administration issued a directive across public schools in the U.S. in May 2016 to allow transgender students to use the restrooms of their gender identity. It was a huge win for the LGBTQIA+ community and its supporters, but this new policy issued by the Trump administration rescinds this directive, thereby neglecting students’ rights in the name of transphobia.

Grimm is one of over 150,000 young people aged 13 to 17 who identify as transgender, and many hundreds of thousands more as LGBTQIA+. Students and all LGBTQIA+ individuals must be protected by federal and state laws, or they will be pushed to the wayside by an unsympathetic government.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that barring transgender students from bathrooms is a violation of Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in all schools (K-12 and postsecondary) that accept federal funds. However, with Trump’s new policy and the Supreme Court’s decision, Grimm and other transgender students will not receive the protections they deserve –– protections that are automatically given to cisgender students.

“Thousands of transgender students across the country will have to wait even longer for a final decision from our nation’s highest court affirming their basic rights,” said legal director of the Human Rights Campaign Sarah Warbelow to The New York Times.

The letter issued by the DOJ and the DOE states the issue should be resolved at a state level and questions the word “sex” as used in Title IX proceedings, claiming that the word “sex” would require extensive legal analysis to determine if it referred to biological sex or gender identity.

At UC Santa Cruz, gender neutral bathrooms will remain and California is not intending to withdraw these protections for transgender students. However, across the nation transgender students are still being demonized and considered sexual predators for using the bathrooms of their gender identity.

Approximately one-third of transgender or gender nonconforming K-12 students have been physically assaulted according to a Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Many who commit these assaults act in violence and hatred, the study found, because of an unjustified belief that a transgender individual is a sexual offender solely because of their sexual identity.

This way of thinking is not only a misguided belief — no report of a transgender student committing an act of sexual violence in a public restroom has been brought forward — it’s also detrimental to the health and safety of transgender students.

Suicide rates were at their highest among transgender students who faced discrimination in their communities according to studies by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2014. Many others have reported depression and worries of safety due to this issue. LGBTQIA+ suicide hotlines across the nation have been reporting five times the number of calls that focus on the fear of losing rights under the Trump administration according to Trans Hotline.

As students and human beings, we must reject this act and urge the federal government to enforce the sex protections of Title IX. Sign petitions, call your legislators, protest, but most importantly, be ready to protect those who need it most in our country’s time of upheaval.