The Trump administration on Wednesday rescinded federal protections for transgender students who want the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity, an action that many anticipated after press secretary Sean Spicer spoke on the issue Tuesday. Officials from the federal Education and Justice departments have notified the Supreme Court that they are revoking last year’s Obama-era guidance that protected the rights of trans students.
The letter, included in a Supreme Court filing, only withdraws the previous directive and does not propose a new guidance. The departments wrote that there must be “due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy,” and that the Trump administration wants to “further and more completely consider the legal issues involved.”
The official announcement comes after Spicer’s barebones explanation of President Trump’s longstanding views on the topic—that transgender bathroom access is a states’ rights issue and not a federal one. “There will be further guidance coming from DOJ in particular with respect to not just the executive order, but also the case that’s in front of the Supreme Court,” Spicer said on Tuesday during a White House press briefing, declining to enter into more detail.
Spicer was referring to the ongoing court case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager from Virginia that sued his school board for barring him from the boys’ bathroom in 2014. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case on March 28 and will consider the Obama administration’s anti-discrimination protections. However, now that the Trump administration has officially rescinded last year’s guidance, legal observers have said that Grimm’s case could be sent back to a lower court.
The announcement upset many LGBTQ+ groups that have pushed for safeguarding Obama-era guidance requiring schools allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That mandate, issued in a letter last year, was sent to all public school districts, signed by Justice and Education department officials. The declaration did not contain the force of law, but implicitly threatened to cut federal aid to schools that did not abide with the guidance.
“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” stated then-Education Secretary John B. King Jr. at the time. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”
Following the White House’s announcement, more than 1,000 parents of transgender children sent a letter to President Trump condemning the decision to revise last year’s bathroom safety directive and his agenda to make transgender bathroom accessibility a states’ rights issue rather than a federal one. In addition, advocates are speaking out with #ProtectTransKids, which is currently trending online.
Last year alone, 44 anti-transgender laws in 16 states were introduced at the state level. Many of these bills purport essentialist views about gender which erase trans identities, and they also perpetuate the false notion of trans women as sexual predators.
There is no statistical evidence of violence to justify these laws. In fact, statistics indicate something very different. A 2013 Williams Institute report indicates that roughly 70 percent of trans people have reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. In 2016, it was also reported that nearly 50 percent of transgender people in the U.S have attempted suicide.
“This guidance was developed and issued to support transgender students,”GLSEN’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliza Byard, said in a statement, “because the reality is that transgender students are far more likely to face severe violence and discrimination at school than their peers, placing them at greatly increased risk of suicide and self-harm as a result. When students are allowed to be themselves, they thrive. This guidance changes and saves lives and hurts no one. It should not be withdrawn.”
Alexa Strabuk is an editorial intern at Ms. and has worked as a writer, editor, graphic illustrator and editorial intern for magazines including ELLE, YES!, The Student Life and Mochi. She was recognized by the Asian American Journalists Association for her work as an up-and-coming reporter. Alexa is pursuing a B.A. in Media Studies at Pitzer College with a minor in Asian American studies.