Trump administration withdraws protections for transgender students

Washington, Feb 23 (IANS) US President Donald Trump’s administration revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity, a media report said.

Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the US Supreme Court late Wednesday that the administration is ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the former President Barack Obama’s administration issued during the past two years regarding transgender student rights, The Washington Post daily reported.

Those memos had stated that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws.

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration, which is set to go to the nation’s public schools, does not offer any new guidance, instead it says that the earlier directive needed to be withdrawn because it lacked extensive legal analysis, did not go through a public vetting process, sowed confusion and drew legal challenges.

The administration said that it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law in the future.

The departments wrote that the Trump administration wants to “further and more completely consider the legal issues involved,” and said that there must be “due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy,” the daily said.

Although it offered no clarity or direction to schools that have transgender students, the letter added that “schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that his department “has a duty to enforce the law” and criticised the Obama administration’s guidance as lacking sufficient legal basis.

Sessions wrote that the Department of Justice remains committed to the “proper interpretation” of the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX but said deference should be given to lawmakers and localities.

The new letter scrambles the calculus for a number of lawsuits working their way through the courts, particularly the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia teenager who sued his school board for barring him from the boys’ restroom.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the US Supreme Court next month.

Grimm said he was disheartened that the Trump administration is withdrawing Obama’s guidance which was “incredibly empowering”, the daily added.

The guidance led to outrage all across the country, CNN reported.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director of Human Rights Campaign, said rescinding the guidance will lead to confusion among schools that look to the federal government for best practices, because the change does not affect existing federal law, only the Department of Education’s interpretation of it.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, told the media that the decision was “simply and dangerously wrong and incorrect”.

“Laws like Title IX are not state-by-state options, they are the responsibility of the federal government,” she said.

–IANS

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