Dear Commons Community,
President Trump on Wednesday rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, overruling his own education secretary and placing his administration firmly in the middle of a culture war. As reported by Reuters and the New York Times:
“In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.
That directive, they said, was improperly and arbitrarily devised, “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”
The question of how to address the “bathroom debate,” as it has become known, opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions, who had been expected to move quickly to roll back the civil rights expansions put in place under his Democratic predecessors, wanted to act decisively because of two pending court cases that could have upheld the protections and pushed the government into further litigation.
But Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it.
Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.
Ms. DeVos’s unease was evident in a strongly worded statement she released on Wednesday night, in which she said she considered it a “moral obligation” for every school in America to protect all students from discrimination, bullying and harassment.
She said she had directed the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate all claims of such treatment “against those who are most vulnerable in our schools,” but also argued that bathroom access was not a federal matter.
A couple of hundred people gathered in front of the White House to protest the Trump action, waving rainbow flags and chanting: “No hate, no fear, trans students are welcome here.” The rainbow flag is the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Individual schools will remain free to let transgender students use the bathrooms with which they are most comfortable. And the effect of the administration’s decision will not be immediate because a federal court had already issued a nationwide injunction barring enforcement of the Obama order.
Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Trump’s Nov. 8 election.