Experts say Biden administration's decision to protect trans students 'will save lives'

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The Department of Education confirmed that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, amid an onslaught of anti-trans legislation at the state level.

Civil rights advocates and education experts are celebrating the Biden administration's announcement on Wednesday that it will be taking action against schools that discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation moving forward.

The action is a stark reversal from the previous administration, which rescinded Obama-era guidance for protecting transgender students in schools just one month into former President Donald Trump's tenure. Under Biden, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has released a document that makes clear the administration will enforce bans on discrimination on the basis of sex in education under federal law.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Biden administration said that the 2020 Supreme Court decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, had ensured that LGBTQ students are protected under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs that receive federal funds.

Bostock v. Clayton focused on discrimination against LGBTQ workers specifically, and dealt mostly with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Experts say, however, that Title IX's text is "closely modeled" off of Title VII.

The administration said that, after examining Title IX's texts and federal courts' interpretations of the law, "The same clarity exists for Title IX."

"That is, Title IX prohibits recipients of Federal financial assistance from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their education programs and activities," Department of Education officials explained.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a press release announcing the decision, "The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination – and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections. I'm proud to have directed the Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX to protect all students from all forms of sex discrimination."

Cardona also told The New York Times that school districts shouldn't "wait for complaints to come to address these issues."

Adele Kimmel, director of the Students' Civil Rights Project at Public Justice, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, tweeted in response to the news, "This policy change isn’t just a good idea; it will literally save lives. Every school in every state should take immediate steps to implement this Title IX guidance and protect LGBTQ+ students."

According to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth, 42% of LGBTQ minors have considered attempting suicide in the past year. Those who had access to LGBTQ-affirming spaces reported lower rates of attempted suicide.

Know Your IX, a group that advocates for ending gender-based violence in education, said the Biden administration's announcement was a welcome departure from the Trump administration's opposition to civil rights.

"It was disgusting and disgraceful for the Trump administration to refuse to enforce the rights of LGBTQ students. All students have a right to an education free from violence and harassment," the organization tweeted.

The National Association of School Psychologists called the decision "great news for our students and a step in the right direction toward creating safe and supportive school environments for all."

"We are glad to see @usedgov and @EDcivilrights prioritize the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ students!" the group stated on Twitter.

And Eliza Byard, a senior executive adviser for GLSEN, which fights for more inclusive school environments for LGBTQ students, said the decision was a "huge relief and boost for #LGBTQyouth and those who care about them."

The administration's announcement on Title IX comes after numerous attacks on LGBTQ rights in recent months at the state level, many of them targeting transgender kids. Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Montana, Mississippi, and Alabama have all enacted bans on transgender students playing on the sports team of their gender, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) also issued two executive orders implementing similar bans at the high school and college levels.

Arkansas also passed a law prohibiting transgender young people from accessing gender-affirming health care, including puberty blockers and hormone treatments. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has signed numerous bills into law that target LGBTQ people, including a bill regulating transgender people's bathroom use in schools and legislation that would make it more difficult for students to learn lessons about LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ advocates are pushing federal lawmakers to pass the Equality Bill, in order to counter those actions. The landmark legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation across the board, ensuring LGBTQ people are granted fair and equal access to housing, education, and employment, among other things.

"Pride [Month] is here, but the majority of states still don't protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in: School Education, House buildings Housing, Briefcase Business," the Human Rights Campaign tweeted on Wednesday, shortly after the Biden administration's announcement. "We can fix that by passing the #EqualityAct once and for all."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.