Biden administration finalizes protections for LGBTQ students

  • by Christopher Kane, Washington Blade
  • Friday April 19, 2024
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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photo: Screen capture AP/YouTube
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photo: Screen capture AP/YouTube

National LGBTQ organizations praised the Biden administration Friday after the U.S. Department of Education issued its final rule that revises Title IX, a federal civil rights law, and addresses trans students.

The Title IX policy "protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse," Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement praising the education department's issuance of the final rule Friday, April 19.

Slated to take effect August 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department's revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

"These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during an April 18 call with reporters.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration's new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday's call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, "reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness."

Lambda Legal issued a statement in support of the final rule.

"We applaud the Biden administration's action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration," stated Sasha Buchert, a trans person who is Lambda Legal's nonbinary and transgender rights project director.

"Today's rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX's civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity," she added. "Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse."

Gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) praised the final rule.

"The Education Department and Biden administration showed real courage today, delivering on a long-held promise to ensure that the federal government does more to protect all Americans — especially LGBTQ Americans — from discrimination," Takano stated.

"This groundbreaking rule is a major victory, but we still have much to do," he added. "We need to enshrine and expand its protections by passing the Equality Act because for too many Americans, their rights and protections depend on the ZIP code they live in."

Other LGBTQ organizations also issued statements in support of the final rule.

"Today the U.S. Department of Education has enshrined in federal regulation what we all know to be true - discrimination against students on the basis of sex has no place in our schools," stated Julianna Gonen, federal policy director at San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"In this time when policymakers in some states are targeting LGBTQ — and particularly transgender — youth with hostile laws, it is essential for our federal government to send a clear message that such measures violate federal law," Gonen added. "We welcome these updated Title IX rules and look forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that they are fully implemented so that all students can learn and thrive in our public schools."

Kelley Robinson, a queer Black woman who is president of the Human Rights Campaign, stated that the rule will be "life-changing."

"Today's rule will be life-changing for so many LGBTQ+ youth and help ensure LGBTQ+ students can receive the same educational experience as their peers: going to dances, safely using the restroom, and writing stories that tell the truth about their own lives," she stated.

Robinson also had a warning for school officials.

"School administrators should take note and immediately act to implement anti-bias and anti-bullying and harassment programs that ensure misgendering stops, that cruelty against LGBTQ+ students ends and that every student has access to an education free of discrimination," she stated. "This updated rule is a reminder of what Title IX has been designed to accomplish for more than fifty years: ensure students are safe from abuse, harassment, and discrimination while they pursue their education."

Robinson noted that other issues remain, such as trans students playing on sports teams.

"Even as we celebrate this progress, our work is far from finished," she added. "LGBTQ+ Americans, particularly transgender youth, continue to endure ongoing attacks on their rights and their dignity at the state level. We call on the Biden-Harris administration to move swiftly to ensure Title IX protects the rights of transgender athletes to play and be part of a team. There are also critical protections in health care broadly, including veterans care, that are overdue. It's time to get the job done."

Anti-LGBTQ groups criticized the final rule. Terry Schilling, president of American Principles Project, blasted the change.

"When federal lawmakers enacted Title IX over four decades ago, it was with a clear purpose in mind: to protect the rights of women and girls," stated Schilling. "Today, President Biden has officially turned that on its head. Under the rule released by this administration, schools will now be forced to allow any man or boy who claims to be female into girls' intimate spaces.

"Despite the obvious privacy and safety concerns, girls will now have to share bathrooms and locker rooms with biological males," Schilling stated. "They will have to share accommodations on field trips and in related circumstances. And although this rule punts the issue of sports, as we saw in this week's ruling in West Virginia, it will also likely have the effect of compelling girls to compete against male athletes."

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, a three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled April 16 that West Virginia's law barring transgender female students from participating on female student sports teams violates federal law.

The Bay Area Reporter contributed reporting.

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