A letter obtained by The Washington Post reveals that the Trump Administration may today release its plan to rescind protective guidance for transgender students. The order will reverse federal guidance issued by the Obama administration that directed the nation’s public schools to allow transgender youth to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, in addition to offering anti-bullying and other non-discrimination guidelines (read more on GO’s analysis of the order, its history and the legal and advocacy actions surrounding it here).
The New York Times reports that the draft letter has caused rifts within the current administration, particularly between Attorney General Jeff Sessions—known for his unabashedly anti-LGBTQ stances—and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
DeVos “initially resisted signing off on the order and told Donald Trump that she was uncomfortable with it,” The Times wrote, based on information the paper obtained from three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.
Jeff Sessions, staying true to his anti-LGBTQ roots, argued vehemently with DeVos about the letter and pressured her to change her position because the directive would fail to move forward without her approval (both the Justice and Education Departments must back the order for it to advance).
Not surprisingly, Donald Trump aligned with Sessions’ stance on the anti-transgender letter. The Times’ Republican sources said that DeVos was “faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president,” and hence (apparently choosing her job over her conscience), agreed to give her stamp of approval to the largely anti-trans order.
The Trump administration’s official order was slated for release today, yet Sessions and DeVos allegedly continue to dispute its final verbiage. The draft of the letter The Times received says the Trump administration blames ongoing legal cases and so-called “confusion” over the Obama guidelines as reasons for ordering schools to no longer to follow them.
LGBTQ equality advocates, activist organizations and allies decried the abrupt news of the Trump administration’s now-imminent attack on transgender students’ rights. More than 1,000 parents of transgender children have urged President Trump not to turn his back on their children, in a letter signed by parents from 45 states and Washington, D.C., and organized by Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Parents for Transgender Equality Council. HRC will join the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), other advocates and parents of transgender children for an emergency 6 p.m. rally at the White House today.
“Transgender young people face tragically high rates of discrimination and bullying, and they need a government that will stand up for them—not attack them,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “It’s shocking that this kind of harm would even be a subject of debate for the president. We call on Trump to immediately and permanently affirm the Obama Administration’s guidance and protect transgender students.”
“Such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House,” NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said in a statement Tuesday.
The draft of the order does contain language directing schools to enshrine anti-bullying protections for transgender students, stating, “Schools must ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to learn in a safe environment.” Betsy DeVos specifically requested the inclusion of this provision.
DeVos’s views on LGBTQ rights have been frequently called into question: She’s faced criticism from advocates over her family’s history of donations to socially conservative and anti-gay groups, but also insinuated that her family’s stances fail to fully reflect her own, and in her confirmation hearing, said, “I embrace equality, and I firmly believe in the intrinsic value of each individual, and that every student should have the assurance of a safe and discrimination-free place to become educated.” A week later, a spokesman for the DeVos family told BuzzFeed News that DeVos supports same-sex marriage.
The directive in question—and the internal battle now attached to it—could place a seemingly reluctant DeVos firmly in the middle of further fiery debates on issues of LGBTQ equality, particularly in her jurisdiction: public schools.
Additionally, the fight that erupted between DeVos, Sessions and Trump on the discriminatory directive underscores the new administration’s increasingly backwards take on transgender equality, particularly concerning the muddled views of President Trump himself, who last April, said that he supported the rights of transgender people to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate,” but also said he thinks such decisions should legally be made and enforced at the state level.
Trump’s siding with Sessions on this directive signals otherwise, and points to an administration clearly willing to split with the many Republicans who now believe their party’s focus should pivot from social issues given current majority public support for LGBTQ equality.
Read more on the emergency rally and the transgender guidelines slated for slashing here: