WASHINGTON–President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday reversed Obama-era policies requiring that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. It will now be up to states and school districts to interpret whether federal sex discrimination law applies to gender identity.
A letter sent to schools nationwide Wednesday by the Justice and Education departments says the earlier directive caused confusion and lawsuits over how it should be applied, the AP reported. The new letter says the guidance is lifted, but anti-bullying safeguards will not be affected.
Back in May, the Obama administration issued guidance to U.S. public schools that they were required to treat transgender students according to their gender identity, even if that’s different than their birth identity. A study from The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School estimates that there are approximately 150,000 13- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. who identify as transgender.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the issue at his daily briefing on Wednesday, confirming that the Justice Department and the Department of Education were reviewing the existing guidelines and had “several areas of concern, both legal and procedural.”
Mr. Trump “is a firm believer in states rights, and certain issues like this are best not dealt with at the federal level,” Spicer said.
However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes, according to CBS News’ Paula Reid, that this is a legal issue and not a policy issue. The Obama administration had originally argued that transgender bathroom use falls under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education and education-related activities. However, Sessions believes that “sex” discrimination only refers to the sex on one’s birth certificate and does not include protection for “sexual identity.”
Spicer made that same argument during Wednesday’s briefing.
“There was no discussion of [the transgender issue] back then and to assume certain elements of the law were thought of back then with respect to this would be preposterous,” he said.
The Obama administration’s guidance came shortly after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a new state law that says transgender people must use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate, a law the administration said violated the Civil Rights Act.
A federal court had already put the Obama administration’s guidance on hold, so this is not a huge upheaval in day-to-day operations. However, it signals the first major shift in the Department of Justice’s approach to civil rights under a Trump presidency.
The reversal comes just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to hear a case on transgender students’ bathroom rights.
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