Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance on Transgender Students' Restroom Use

To support transgender youth, it is important that institutions acknowledge their gender identity and allow them to safely navigate public spaces, including restrooms. Allowing transgender youth to use the restroom that matches their gender identity is an important way to affirm their identity. Unfortunately, the Trump administration does not agree.

According to Reuters and UPI, the Trump administration announced on February 22nd that it had rolled back Obama administration guidelines allowing transgender students the right to use public school restrooms that matched their gender identity. In a February 22nd statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained that the Department of Justice and Department of Education withdrew guidance issued in 2015-2016 regarding transgender student restroom use. "The prior guidance documents did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX.  The Department of Education and the Department of Justice therefore have withdrawn the guidance," he wrote. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also issued a statement insisting that the restroom issue is "best solved at the state and local level".

The decision drew immediate criticism and dissent. Several city and state officials announced that they would continue to protect transgender restroom rights, according to Buzzfeed. A joint statement issued by 19 education, mental health, and youth-oriented organizations criticized with the administration's decision to rescind the federal guidance. LGBTQ rights groups were also unhappy with the decision, calling it "a mean-spirited attack""a blind and cruel attack on young children", "a new low" that could "endanger the well-being and safety of children across the country". Pro-LGBTQ demonstrators convened at Stonewall Inn in New York on February 23rd to protest the Trump administration's decision.

On the other hand, right-wing figures applauded the decision. News of the decision drew cheers from CPAC attendees, according to Talking Points Memo. White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the decision, calling transgender restroom access a states' rights issue.

Religious Right organizations praised the decision as well, resorting to ugly stereotypes and about transgender youth in their defense of the move. In a February 23rd Washington Update, Family Research Council staff resorted to scare tactics about government "coercion" and boys invading girls' showers to justify the decision.
"The administration's posture isn't anti-LGBT. It's pro-democracy. States and local districts are in the best position to decide what serves their students best. If it's letting teenage boys shower with the girls, then by all means, pursue that. Just don't be surprised when families rise up -- as they have all across this nation -- and demand better. When pressed, the persistence of parents will always be stronger than the government's coercion."

In a February 22nd statement, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called the Obama administration's guidance on Title IX a "coercive policy" that would "force boys and girls to shower together, stay together on school trips, and use the same locker rooms and bathrooms." He demonized transgender youth as a danger to children, claiming that " Parents refused to allow their child's innocence to be sacrificed on the altar of government imposed political correctness."
"Today’s announcement fulfills President Trump’s campaign promise to get the federal government out of the business of dictating school shower and bathroom policies.   The federal government has absolutely no right to strip parents and local schools of their rights to provide a safe learning environment for children."
Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation penned a commentary piece for the Daily Signal, in which he called the Title IX guidance "unlawful" and characterized it as an affront to students' dignity and safety.
"While we must be sensitive to the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of people who identify as transgender, that is not a reason to ignore the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of everyone else.

Unfortunately, the Obama-era policies were entirely one-sided. They favored the concerns of people who identify as transgender while entirely discounting the concerns of others."
Andrew T. Walker, director of policy students at the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a commentary piece in defense of the Trump administration's move. He called gender identity an "amorphous and subjective" concept, described transgender women as "biological males who think of themselves as female" and who are "gender-confused", and called the Obama administration's guidance "lawless". Sickeningly, he claimed that allowing transgender women in women's restrooms would put women at risk of sexual assault, thereby promoting the ugly stereotype of transgender persons as predators.
"Christian parents with kids in public schools should be thankful for the Trump administration’s actions because it bars the federal government from treating citizens with a different belief on debated issues over human anthropology as outside the mainstream.

There are ways to resolve this dispute at the local level without bringing the heavy hand of government coercion into the equation and in the process, penalizing different beliefs about how men and women are made.

Restroom and locker room policies separate men and women based on privacy concerns. Individuals of the same biological sex share the same anatomy. Sharing the restroom with those who are of the same sex and who have the same anatomy enhances the possibility of embarrassment or vulnerability from viewing the opposite sex in a state of undress. For the sake of protecting women against sexual assault by those who would take advantage of these laws or preventing biological men from viewing women in a private situation, restroom, or locker room, it is prudent to base access on biological sex distinction."
The Trump administration's decision has dealt a cruel blow to transgender youth across the country. Transgender students must continue their struggle for the basic right of restroom access while coping with damaging stereotypes of transgender people as predators, threats, and male interlopers in women's spaces. By throwing red meat to transphobic members of the Religious Right, the Trump administration has created heartache for transgender youth.

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