Under the Obama administration last May, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued joint guidance that directed schools to let transgender students use facilities, most notably restrooms, that correspond with their genders. Known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, it addressed school districts and colleges that receive federal funding. Schools are expected to comply with the federal law Title IX which bans discrimination based on sex and gender identity. Yet, the Trump administration announced in late February that these protections would be withdrawn. Civil rights groups have denounced this attack on trans students, reminding the public that Title IX is not “undone” and neither are any existing state level protections, but there are those who believe this is a state’s rights issue that the federal government has no say in and welcome the change. Nevertheless, it certainly poses a new danger for trans and gender nonconforming students, many of whom already have to fight to use the facilities that they choose, despite the protections of the guidance.
The Supreme Court was also poised to give its own interpretation of 17-year-old Gavin Grimm’s case from Virginia, who is fighting a school board policy that continues to deny him access to the boys’ bathroom, only letting him use the single stall restrooms instead. The federal appeals court that ruled in his favor relied on and deferred to the Obama administration’s Title IX interpretations. It remains to be seen how the Trump administration’s withdrawal will affect the case overall but since the change Gavin’s case was sent back down by the Supreme Court.
We also wait to see what interpretations of Title IX will come from the administration, who has promised that the withdrawal was for concerns necessitating a re-reading of the law.