Online Extra: Gays Across America: Despite Trump admin's action, officials pledge to continue backing students
by Seth Hemmelgarn
California public school officials say they'll continue to support transgender students after the Trump administration withdrew former President Barack Obama's guidance that trans youth should be able to use bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.
Under the Obama administration, officials in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education had told school administrators in May 2016 that Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs, covers gender identity.
But in a February 22 letter, the two agencies said that they were rescinding Obama's guidance "in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved."
The letter also said, "there must be due regard for the primary role of the states and local school district in establishing educational policy."
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates there are 150,000 transgender people ages 13-17 in the U.S.
The guidance from the Obama administration "aimed to protect these students from school-based bullying, harassment, and discrimination that impairs their access to equal education," a news release from the institute said. "Research demonstrates the high prevalence of bullying and harassment of transgender students."
Officials from across the country were quick to denounce the Trump administration's anti-trans views and pledge their continued support for students.
In a news release, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reminded people that in 2013, the state became the first in the country to make it law that transgender K-12 students have the right to choose bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.
"All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment," Torlakson stated. "California will continue to work to provide that environment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students regardless of any misguided directives by the federal government and the Trump administration."
The president's action "does not roll back protections for California students and educators," the news release said.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, gay San Francisco Unified School District interim Superintendent Myong Leigh, and Board of Education President Shamann Walton said in a separate news release that the Trump administration's action is "a misguided act."
"The San Francisco Unified School District has a policy in place that explicitly prohibits gender-based discrimination, a protection that extends to everyone, including transgender students," the officials said. "San Francisco is proud that we were the first city in the country to include those safeguards to our transgender student body. We will continue to honor those policies and ensure that all of our students feel safe and comfortable when they enter our classrooms."
Steve Zimmer, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education, called the Trump administration's action "a vile regression of our nation's irreversible pathway toward loving, embracing and respecting every student's dignity. ... Let me be clear: The Los Angeles Board of Education refuses to withdraw our commitment to the safety and dignity of our transgender students. For that reason, every student in this nation's second-largest school district will continue to use the facilities that match their identity. This practice, in effect for a decade, will not change."
Officials with school districts in other states didn't respond to interview requests.
However, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement that while the Trump administration's action "sends a dangerous and divisive message and threatens some of our most vulnerable young people," in New York, "the law remains the law – and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school. My office will use all the existing tools of federal, state, and local law to ensure that transgender kids are safe in their schools and are provided equal access to all programming and facilities consistent with their gender identity."
D'Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, stated, "Forcing a transgender student to use public facilities not in line with their gender identity not only threatens their right to an education, but puts them at risk for very real physical harm. The LGBT Bar unequivocally condemns these actions by the Trump administration and calls for an immediate reversal of this decision."
In response to an email from the Bay Area Reporter, Kemnitz said, "With more than three-quarters of all transgender students reporting harassment, state and local governments, as well as individual school districts, can and should take a stand to protect their students, though, at this point, the federal government has decided that they are under no legal obligation to do."
HRC criticizes anti-gay court ruling in Arkansas
The national Human Rights Campaign is criticizing the Arkansas Supreme Court after it struck down a Fayetteville ordinance that banned discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Kendra R. Johnson, HRC's Arkansas state director, said in a news release that the court's February 23 ruling is "an attack on LGBTQ Arkansans" and said it "takes away hard-won protections approved by voters in Fayetteville. Fayetteville's leaders and citizens chose to protect their friends and neighbors when their representatives in Little Rock would not. Removing these protections leaves LGBTQ people without local, municipal or state protections, putting them at heightened risk of discrimination as they simply go about their daily lives."
Fayetteville voters approved the ordinance in 2015, just a few months after the state's Legislature made it illegal for cities to pass their own protections for LGBTs.
In its ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court said that the Fayetteville ordinance "creates a non-uniform non-discrimination law and obligation ... that odes not exist under state law. It is clear from the statutory language and the ordinance's language that there is a direct inconsistency between state and municipal law and that the ordinance is an obstacle to the objective and purposes set forth in the [state law] and therefore it cannot stand."
Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues
nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to
Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or email@example.com