The federal government has essentially stopped defending the rights of transgender students. Earlier this week, just after Jeff Sessions had been confirmed as attorney general, the Department of Justice announced it would no longer defend a directive that sought to ensure transgender students were not discriminated against in public schools and universities.
The directive, issued by the Obama administration last May, was put on hold by a federal judge in Texas after several states challenged it in court. This allowed states to ignore guidance that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Gov. Paul LePage signed onto the lawsuit as an individual, not as a representative of the state.
The Justice Department announced on Feb. 10 that it would no longer challenge the injunction, ignoring requirements that transgender students be treated no different than their non-transgender peers.
The department’s about-face is likely to impact a pending U.S. Supreme Court case. The court has agreed to hear a case involving a transgender student’s bathroom use. In the Virginia case, Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, was prohibited from using the boys bathroom at his school and told to use a bathroom in a janitor’s closet. A lower court order required the school to allow Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom. But the Supreme Court put that order on hold pending its ruling in the case. As a result, Grimm is prohibited from using the boys’ bathroom this academic year, his senior year.
It is expected that the Justice Department, which had supported Grimm’s claims, will switch sides to back the school. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for next month. LePage joined a brief filed in support of the school board.
By delaying rules for schools, which are asking for clarity in how they should accommodate transgender students, the Trump administration needlessly puts these vulnerable students at risk.
LePage followed a similar path in Maine.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in 2014, ruled that a transgender student in Orono must be allowed to use the bathroom that matched her gender identity. After the ruling, the Maine Human Right Commission began writing rules for schools to comply with the court’s decision. LePage stopped the rulemaking process, so the commission issued guidelines instead. Guidelines are not enforceable.
With no rules in Maine and a federal injunction against guidance to schools on this topic, transgender students remain unnecessarily at risk.
Those seeking to restrict transgender students bathroom use, including Republican governors and Christian organizations, often suggest that transgender people want access to women’s restroom so they can sexually assault women. This logic is offensive and wrong.
“This misconception is rooted in the false belief that people who are transgender or gender non-conforming are sexual predators. There is absolutely no evidence of this,” the University of Michigan Sexual Assault and Prevention Center says on its website. “There are no statistics that support the idea that LGBT individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals or cis-gendered individuals.
“In fact, sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual cis-gendered men,” it says.
Transgender, bisexual, gay and lesbian youth are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Nearly three-quarters of LGBT youth report being verbally harassed, and a third report having been physically harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a 2013 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. More than a third of these students avoid gender-segregated spaces in schools, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
The suicide risk for transgender people is nearly 10 times that of the general population. More than 40 percent of transgender individuals have attempted suicide, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
These numbers, not made-up concerns about bathroom predators, should prompt action to protect transgender youth and adults instead of actions to further isolate and demean them.