Administration Releases Guidance to Protect Transgender Students

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on Friday released joint guidance to clarify schools’ Title IX obligations regarding transgender students and to provide examples of how both departments determine compliance.

“A school’s Title IX obligation to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns,” wrote Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, and Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, in a letter to schools. “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

The Department of Education also released a companion compilation of real-life examples of polices and emerging practices for supporting transgender students to help schools understand whether they’re complying with Title IX and other federal laws.

“Schools want to do right by all of their students and have looked to us to provide clarity on steps they can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination and has an opportunity to thrive,” Lhamon and Gupta wrote in a blog post announcing the guidance.

In a statement responding to Friday’s release, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, praised the administration for taking another important step to fight discrimination.

“Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the country that it is immoral to demonize and discriminate against transgender students and the LGBT community,” Zirkin said. “Transgender students are routinely subject to violence, homelessness, and discrimination when they have the bravery to live their lives honestly and openly. These are the students we should lift up as role models, not demonize for political purposes.”

The guidance comes just days after historic statements from Gupta and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who on Monday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against North Carolina over the state’s anti-LGBT law. That bill – H.B. 2 – was passed during a one-day special session on March 23, and requires transgender people to use restrooms consistent with the sex assigned to them at birth rather than their gender identity.

“The Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward,” Lynch said on Monday. “Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.”

For more resources related to the joint guidance, click here.