Close to 800 parents of transgender children from around the country wrote to President Donald Trump this week calling for his administration to uphold their children's civil rights.
The letter specifically urges the administration not to reverse the joint guidance issued by the Departments of Justice and Education in May last year, which advised school districts that they should not discriminate against trans students. The letter begins:
As parents of transgender children, we were heartbroken and scared when we learned that your Administration’s Department of Justice had dropped its objections to a nationwide hold on Obama era protections for transgender students. You promised to be a president for all Americans, but less than 48 hours after Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General, the Department of Justice took a concrete step to undermine equality for the LGBTQ community.
That guidance was a follow-up to another advisory in 2015 when the Obama administration affirmed that gender identity is included under Title IX protections against education discrimination on the basis of sex.
After 12 states sued the federal government over the guidance (which isn't legally binding but carries the threat of federal funds being withheld), a Texas judge issued an injunction, suspending it nationwide.
The Department of Justice under Obama was ready to appeal the decision, asking a court to limit the suspension to just the 12 states involved in the lawsuit. But on Friday, the DOJ under its new leadership dropped that appeal. It's not yet clear what the next step will be from the agency, but the move appears to indicate that the DOJ doesn't intend to proactively protect trans students' rights.
It's worrying news for parents of transgender children, whose treatment varies from state to state without federal guidelines explicitly protecting them under Title IX. In states like Texas, South Dakota, and North Carolina, where "bathroom bills" are being pushed, the lack of federal protections can have serious health and educational consequences for trans children. The letter continues:
Sadly, there remain some in our school environments who still choose to target our children for mistreatment and violence. Many of us find ourselves in school districts or states that are considering or have already adopted policies that single-out transgender students for discrimination. We know the devastating impacts these policies can have. 75 percent of transgender young people report feeling unsafe in school. One study found that more than fifty percent of transgender youth have attempted to commit suicide at least once in their lifetime. These policies are wrong, they hurt our children, and they violate the principle of equal protection.
And individual school boards can also put in place rules that prevent trans students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. The Supreme Court will hear a case this year arising from exactly that situation: Transgender high school student Gavin Grimm was barred from using the men's bathroom at his Virginia school by the Gloucester County School Board. Grimm's mother, Deidre Grimm, is one of the parents who signed the letter.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, organized the letter. "We stand with these parents and urge President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to listen to families across the country demanding basic fairness and respect for every child," said HRC president Chad Griffin.