Following a series of controversial decisions from President Trump, the newest administrative action rolls back a number of federal protections for transgender students.
These protections allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that most closely aligns with their gender identity, rather than the biological sex of record. Former President Obama put the executive action in place largely in response to the North Carolina government’s passage of what is commonly referred to as the “Bathroom Bill,” which mandated that transgender students use the bathroom that aligns with the biological sex listed on their birth certificate. This was a part of a larger bill eliminating anti-discrimination laws for LGBT individuals.
Trump’s rollbacks of the transgender protections come after a battle between Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over taking the protections back. DeVos, who has quietly supported gay rights for years, was not in support of eliminating educational protections for LGBT students, whereas Sessions is a very vocal opponent of increasing gay rights protections. Sessions could not move forward without DeVos’ signature, but facing pressure from higher ups in the administration, including the president himself, DeVos had to give in.
Eliminating protections for transgender students is the first sign that the Trump administration is aiming to please his conservative Christian voters with limiting LGBT rights. Though Trump said that the equal marriage ruling was a done deal, it seems that he is being pressured by both his administration and voters to align more conservatively on the issue of LGBT rights.
Ultimately, these protections are left up to individual schools, districts or local and state governments but the precedent this has set for upcoming legislation concerning LGBT rights is disturbing. Not only are transgender students suffering at the hands of legislation that discriminates against their gender identity, the federal government has now given license to the people discriminating against them.
When students do not feel safe in their educational space, they fail to get the education they deserve. If transgender people cannot use public bathrooms, it sends a message that they cannot use public spaces at all. Taking away the right to use the bathroom automatically communicates to transgender students that they do not deserve the same educational experience as their cisgender peers. This is not only incredibly unfair, it is an enormous violation of the civil rights that LGBT people, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and many other organizations have fought so hard for.
Because there is a pending Supreme Court case concerning this set of protections for transgender students, Trump’s order cannot be put into effect. Essentially, one student and the rights he is fighting for is standing between the administration and their policy changes.
The fact of the matter is that the Trump administration, under the guise of pleasing Christian conservatives, is communicating yet another message of alienation and discrimination against a large population in the United States. Taking away equitable educational experiences from transgender students transcends any one state’s rulings on the issue and undermines an entire population’s fight for civil rights. If it is an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we as United States citizens have, that must include our transgender citizens as well. As of now, the liberty of these individuals is being stripped away, and therefore their pursuit of happiness is even more complicated and inequitable than before.