Injunction sends wrong message
Transgender students were not greeted with a warm welcome upon the start of the school year this week when a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government's guidance to public school districts regarding their legal responsibility to allow them to use the same restrooms as other students. This injunction does not apply to districts that have already implemented trans-friendly policies, like many here in the Bay Area and across the state.
The case, Texas v. United States, started earlier this year when Texas and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the Departments of Justice, Education, and Labor and numerous federal officials. The lawsuit, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, targets federal letters, guides, memos, and statements regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments that interpret federal bans on sex discrimination to encompass gender identity discrimination, and therefore, permits trans kids should be able to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity. There's a copycat lawsuit that was filed recently by 10 other states.
This week's injunction by Judge Reed O'Connor is just the latest court ruling that is detrimental to trans students. Earlier this month, Virginia high school student Gavin Grimm suffered a setback in his legal case when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on a lower court decision that would have allowed him to use the boys' restroom. The high court may decide to hear the case in its next term. Given the stay in the Grimm case and Monday's injunction, it appears likely that the justices will, at some point, decide to hear a trans restroom case.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, expressed disappointment with the injunction, issued by O'Connor for the Northern District of Texas, and said it sent a "terrible message to transgender and gender nonconforming students."
"This ruling comes from a court specifically chosen for its track record of being on the wrong side of history," Nathan Smith, GLSEN's director of public policy, said in a statement.
GLSEN also reiterated that it's incredibly important for schools to know that the ruling does not prevent districts from enacting policies that are "supportive and inclusive of their transgender and gender nonconforming students."
"In fact, such policies are even more crucial now as students go back to school, many without the support they might have expected from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice's guidance," Smith added.
He's right. School districts, as well as parents and students, are likely to be unsure what the injunction means for them. The ruling will confuse school districts that are trying to support trans students. Furthermore, the injunction prevents the Education and Justice departments from launching or completing any investigations on the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX – another serious setback.
O'Connor's decision leaves no doubt where he stands, as his interpretation of "sex" under federal guidelines refers only to biological sex as determined at birth. That's an outdated view because it doesn't accept advances in our understanding of trans people. We disagree with O'Connor that the administration's guidelines "create de facto new law." The administration has crafted guidelines that are the logical next step in a long-standing trend to expand interpretation and application of sex discrimination under Title IX. As more trans students are coming out – many with the support of their families – they want and deserve access to the same facilities as other students.
Don't blame it on Rio
Blame the poor coverage of LGBTI athletes at the Rio Games on the on-air talent and producers at NBC. The network's shoddy, homophobic coverage was worse than at the Winter Games in Sochi two years ago, when President Vladimir Putin's new anti-gay law was making headlines around the world and had to be confronted on the broadcast. This year, NBC just flat-out failed. According to Outsports.com there were a record 53 out athletes at the Summer Olympics – some came out during the Games – and many of them won medals. But you wouldn't know it if you tuned into NBC, which has the rights to broadcast the games through 2032. Most blatantly, NBC initially did not mention the well-known fact that British diver Tom Daley is gay, and that his fiance, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, was in the stands cheering him on. Yet the network let two American divers babble on about how they love God.
Other media outlets didn't fare any better on the sexism front, with the Chicago Tribune referring to a female medalist merely as the "wife" of a Chicago Bears player in a headline. She has her own name.
This reticence on the part of NBC to acknowledge gay athletes is not new, and needs to be corrected, especially since its broadcasting contract extends so far into the future. It's time for NLGJA, the gay journalists group, and GLAAD, the LGBT media watchdog organization, to offer basic training to NBC talent covering the Olympics. We don't care if athletes want to invoke their religious beliefs, but NBC should give equal time to out athletes. They're shattering stereotypes when they participate and are showing the world that LGBTIs can be just as competitive as anyone else – but not when we are hidden in plain sight.