On Monday, the Washington Blade reported that the Trump administration was preparing to rescind the Obama administration’s nationwide protections for transgender schoolchildren, allowing trans kids to use the school bathroom to aligns with their gender identity. On Tuesday, the Washington Post obtained a leaked draft of the letter, stating that it was “slated to be issued Wednesday.” Yet here we are on Wednesday afternoon, and the letter hasn’t been issued. What gives?
The New York Times has the likely (and very unexpected) answer: Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, fought vigorously against it. According to the Times, DeVos “initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.” But the letter had to be sent from both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice—and Attorney General Jeff Sessions vehemently opposes transgender rights. So DeVos and Sessions clashed on the issue, forcing Trump to weigh in, which he did, on the side of Sessions.
DeVos was apparently faced with a tough choice: Resign in protest; defy the president; or go along with Sessions. She chose the last route. But the Times reports that she and Sessions are “still disputing the final language.” DeVos also reportedly asked that the letter include a provision affirming that schools must protect trans kids from bullying. A draft includes the line: “Schools must ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to learn in a safe environment.”
Credit where credit is due: Though we don’t know her reasoning, DeVos deserves praise for fighting Sessions’ outright hostility toward trans people. Yes, she ultimately caved, and she remains either terrible or ignorant on most other issues. But she also forced the trans question all the way to the Oval Office, compelling Trump to issue a direct verdict rather than delegating the unseemly task to his bigoted attorney general. And she appears to have secured concessions that could slightly dampen the impact of the letter—though one could argue that a “safe environment” can’t include trauma every time a trans student needs to pee. In any case, it sounds like DeVos is demonstrating more backbone and independence than we have seen from the rest of Trump’s cabinet members combined. Her chutzpah may not rescue trans kids from discrimination, but it provides heartening proof that at least one person in Trump’s circle has some sympathy for their situation.