Update on Transgender Bathroom Laws

Update on Transgender Bathroom Laws

Progress has been made in overturning North Carolina’s House Bill 2 or commonly known as the transgender “bathroom law”. House Bill 2 states that people must use the bathroom that coincides with the gender listed on their birth certificate. CNN reported on February 11 that a judge ruled that 2 students and 1 faculty member at the University of North Carolina be allowed to used the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity. Until these three plaintiffs go to trial it is a temporary and limited block of this law but is being considered as the first step in the law being repealed.

However while that is good news out of North Carolina, on a federal level the news is not celebratory. The Obama Administration had the the Justice Department and Education Department advised public schools that they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, as opposed to their birth gender, or face the loss of federal funds. Thirteen states are suing the federal government over this directive. The states are: Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky.

A hearing was set for February 14 but the Justice Department and the states filed a joint notice saying both sides moved to cancel the hearing. “The parties are currently considering how to best proceed in this appeal,” the motion said. Prior to this hearing these states had won a national injunction, which still stands, preventing that guidance about bathrooms from being disseminated to students. Besides the bathroom access issue, the guidance also covered making sure transgender students’ privacy is protected.

Activists of the LGBT community said the Justice Department move to cancel the hearing is not a good sign and believes it signals a shift in policy. “It is sending a signal they don’t intend to enforce the guidance in any state,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN. “They are fine with their hands being tied.”

This week, sadly, the cancellation of the hearings made sense as the Trump Administration withdrew all protections for transgender students. At the CPAC conference Betsy DeVos responded by saying, “This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach, a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach. These matters should be handled at a “personal and local level.”

Warbelow said she was “extraordinarily disappointed. The DOJ should be a champion for all students’ civil rights and by signaling a willingness to be bound by the injunction nationwide they are certainly signaling they aren’t intending to pursue civil rights for transgender people.”

Warbelow noted transgender students are not prohibited from filing a lawsuit if they experience discrimination.

The Justice Department declined comment on the filing.


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Sad Future for the LGBTQ & Public Education?

February 7 was a sad day for public education, especially our most at risk students, the LGBTQ community with the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.

LGBTQ advocates opposed DeVos based on major donations from her family’s foundations to anti-LGBTQ groups, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. These groups support the highly controversial conversion therapy.

David Stacy, of the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is “disappointed” with the confirmation and will watch to see if the Education Department takes actions to rescind LGBTQ rights. “She is now charged with ensuring that LGBTQ students around the country are able to go to school in a safe environment where they can learn without compromising who they are,” Stacy said. “We hope our substantial concerns about her commitment to maintaining and advancing protections for LGBTQ students are disproven by her actions. But, if instead she moves to roll back legal protections or fails to enforcement them, we will fight every step of the way to ensure LGBTQ students are safe and respected in their schools.”

All Democrats in the Senate and two Republicans voted against DeVos. Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie to assure DeVos’ confirmation.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont expressed his concern about DeVos by saying, “Mrs. DeVos and her family have contributed to anti-LGBT causes and anti-women’s health efforts, which are in direct conflict to the one who is supposed to lead the Department of Education. How can a nominee disagree with the mission of the Department of Education and be fit to oversee that agency and promote the civil rights of schools and college campuses?”

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is the only out lesbian in Congress, declared her opposition to DeVos before the confirmation vote and said that she’s “troubled” by the DeVos family’s contributions to anti-LGBT organizations.  “While she told me and several of my colleagues at her hearing that she believes all students should be treated equally, I really remain concerned about how this long history of support for these anti-LGBTQ organizations will influence a department which, over the last eight years, has shown some tremendous leadership in supporting LGBTQ students and parents in the education system,” said Baldwin.

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos denied having anti-LGBTQ views, saying she’s “never supported” conversion therapy and the anti-LGBTQ donations were from her family, not her or her husband. According to the American Federation of Teachers, a foundation run by DeVos and her husband, contributed $100,000 to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, which opposed marriage equality.

As the leader of the Education Department, DeVos could rescind protections that the Obama administration started that interprets federal law to prohibit schools from discriminating against transgender students or denying them access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

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