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Legal and Civil Rights Advocates Call on State Education Officials to Protect Transgender Students

Legal and Civil Rights Advocates Call on State Education Officials to Protect Transgender Students

In a letter to state education officials in all 50 states, a coalition of legal and civil
rights advocates says federal law and the U.S. Constitution mandate that schools provide
transgender students with equal educational opportunities—which includes providing access to
facilities and programs consistent with students’ gender identity. The letter, coordinated by Public
Justice, the National Women’s Law Center and Lambda Legal, was signed by 50 organizations and
individuals, including Anurima Bhargava, former Chief of the Educational Opportunities Section of
the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

“Under Title IX, schools may not legally exclude, separate, or deny educational benefits to
transgender students,” the letter says, “nor treat transgender students differently than any other
student.” Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in schools and has been widely found by courts to
require schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of
their educational experience.

The letter follows a decision by the Trump Administration, in February 2017, to withdraw guidance
issued by DOJ and the Department of Education in 2016 that outlined schools’ obligations under
the law. “We are concerned,” the letter states, “that the withdrawal of the Title IX guidance might
lead some schools to believe that transgender students are not entitled to access bathrooms or other
single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity, or that the law or their obligations under
Title IX to protect transgender students have somehow changed. That is simply not the case.”
The letter, which was distributed today to contacts in each state’s Department of Education who are
responsible for ensuring compliance with Title IX, goes on to note that “when schools fail to
comply with the law, they will continue to be subjected to lawsuits filed by and on behalf of
aggrieved students.”

“Though the political winds in Washington may have changed since 2016, the law has not,” said
Adele Kimmel, Senior Attorney for Public Justice. “Our letter is an important reminder to schools
that, regardless of whether the Trump Administration enforces it, Title IX requires that every
student—including transgender students—be respected, protected and treated equally under the law.
This was true before the Obama Administration issued its guidance on schools’ obligations to
protect transgender students. And it remains true, even though the current Administration withdrew
that guidance. Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions are doing schools a great disservice
by suggesting the law is open for interpretation. We want school officials to understand that it is
not.”

“Every student deserves an education free from discrimination,” added Fatima Goss Graves,
president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “And we will continue to fight with
advocates across the country to protect trangender students from discrimination and harassment in
the face of the Trump administration’s retreat from enforcing their civil rights.”

“Title IX coordinators play an essential role to ensure that every student thrives at school – and
does so without fear of discrimination, bullying or harassment,” said Paul D. Castillo, Senior
Attorney and Students’ Rights Strategist for Lambda Legal. “Transgender students continue to
suffer the brunt of the misinformation perpetuated by the Trump Administration’s rescission of the
guidance. It is incumbent on school officials to follow federal law to ensure students, including
transgender students, receive equal educational opportunities in a safe and healthy environment. The
lawyers at Lambda Legal remain vigilant and we will act swiftly on behalf of transgender students
facing discrimination at non-compliant schools.”

The letter, which is also signed by the American Association of University Women, GLSEN, the
Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Trevor Project –
among others – notes the groups “stand ready to assist and support” states in complying with the
law. “Of course,” they add, “schools have more than a legal obligation to treat transgender students
equitably; they also have an ethical obligation. All students, regardless of their identities, deserve to
learn and thrive.”

A copy of the letter, with a complete list of signatories, is available for download here.