by Lauren A. Khouri, Associate Attorney, Correia and Puth
This past week, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, under the direction of President Trump, withdrew guidance to schools that receive federal funding that Title IX requires transgender students the right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. In withdrawing the guidance on transgender rights, the Trump administration showed neither an understanding of the laws that protect against sex discrimination nor the key role of government in protecting students’ civil rights.
First and foremost, the Trump administration’s actions do not change the law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – has long protected the rights of transgender students to use restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity. By its language, Title IX prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating “based on sex.” Over the past two decades, federal courts and agencies have recognized with near unanimity that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination, including Title IX, prohibit discrimination against transgender persons. For example, the Supreme Court long ago recognized that it is illegal for an employer to deny employment opportunities or permit harassment because a woman does not dress or talk in a feminine manner, because this is discrimination based on sex. Likewise, federal trial and appellate courts have found that it is impossible to consider someone’s gender identity – a person’s innate identification of one’s gender – without considering his or her sex. Indeed, transgender people are defined by the fact that their gender identity does not match the biological sex given to them at birth. Therefore, courts have reasoned, discriminating against someone based on their gender identity is synonymous with sex discrimination prohibited under the law.