A spokeswoman for the Department of Education told BuzzFeed News that the agency will no longer investigate complaints from transgender students barred from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity. This comes after a year of uncertainty about how the Trump administration was officially handling transgender issues in public schools.
Soon after Trump’s inauguration, the Education and Justice departments overturned a 2016 guidance by the Obama administration that had directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity, but the administration had not clarified how the department would handle civil rights complaints from these students.
That 2016 guidance had interpreted gender identity issues to fall legally under Title IX protections against sex discrimination. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed that policy, arguing that sex discrimination protections did not cover gender identity, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to hear a case on the issue. According to the Washington Post, in June, the acting head of the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights said that staff should approach transgender students’ complaints on a case-by-case basis. But on Monday, the department confirmed to the Post that it would no longer be investigating these cases at all.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said in response to questions from The Washington Post. “Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. In the case of bathrooms, however, longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”
The department says it will still look into civil rights complaints from transgender students that don’t involve bathrooms. Activists for transgender rights argue that banning students from bathrooms matching their gender identity exposes them to indignities, humiliation, and bullying. Catherine Lhamon, who headed the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under President Barack Obama, told the Post that the decision was “appalling and deeply dangerous.”