Biden administration tells trans kids 'discrimination will not be accepted on our watch'

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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke assured transgender students that discrimination is 'wrong' and 'against the law' in a new video from the Justice Department.

The Biden administration urged transgender students to file complaints if they've been discriminated against in a "back-to-school message" video posted to YouTube from the Justice Department's account on Tuesday. 

In the video, top officials from the Justice Department, Education Department, and Health and Human Services sent a message of support to transgender kids, reminding them that anti-trans discrimination is against the law.

Suzanne Goldberg, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department addressed fears transgender students may have starting school this year.

"If you're a transgender student, maybe you're worried about simply being accepted for and safe, and being treated with respect as you head into the new school year," Goldberg said.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said that although many educators are supportive of LGBTQ students, "we also know that's not the reality for all transgender students."

She said: "In some places, people of authority are putting up obstacles that would keep you from playing on the sports field, accessing the bathroom, and receiving the supportive and life-saving care you need. We're here to say that's wrong and it's against the law."

Clarke asserted in the video that both the education and justice departments will seek "to investigate complaints about discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity,"

and shared websites where transgender youth can file civil rights complaints.

"We want to hear from you," Clarke said. She added, "Discrimination will not be accepted on our watch."

Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender federal official, also addressed transgender students in the video, saying, "Discrimination and bullying have no place in our nation’s schools," and, "I will do everything that I can to support and advocate for our community."

The video highlights the significant departure the Biden administration has taken from the Trump administration's approach to the challenges facing transgender children.

Arguably, the Trump administration did everything it could to set aside discrimination complaints from transgender students. In 2017, the administration reversed federal guidelines set during the Obama administration to protect transgender children. And in February of 2018, the Education Department told BuzzFeed News that it wouldn't investigate complaints about transgender students being denied access to the restroom of their gender. 

"Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity," Liz Hill, a department spokesperson at the time, said.

A few months later, in May 2018, then-Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) pressed Betsy DeVos, secretary of the Education Department, on the agency’s plans to combat LGBTQ discrimination, but DeVos said the law was unsettled on the rights of transgender students.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court found in Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is sex-based discrimination, potentially throwing a wrench in the works for Trump administration policy. While the case specifically involved LGBTQ workers who suffered employment discrimination, policy experts have since argued that the decision still affects other areas of discrimination, including in health care, housing, and education.

But in August of 2020, the agency argued that it didn’t have to follow the Bostock decision when it came to protecting transgender students. In 2021, just weeks away from Biden assuming the presidency, the agency released an internal memo saying that Title IX, which bars sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs receiving federal funding, does not apply to transgender people. Since then the Biden administration has taken numerous steps to reverse many of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies. 

The back-to-school video comes months after states enacted laws targeting the rights of transgender kids to play on the sports team of their gender and go to the bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender, which have resulted in numerous legal challenges.

This year, eight states — including West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida — issued transgender sports bans. In 2020, Idaho passed a similar law, but it has been blocked by the courts. In July, federal courts also halted West Virginia's sports ban from going into effect, as well as a different Arkansas law that seeks to prohibit transgender youth from accessing affirming hormone therapy and puberty blockers.

The Justice Department filed statements of interest in lawsuits against both West Virginia's and Arkansas' laws, saying they were unconstitutional.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.