It’s not exactly surprising, but it’s still very disappointing: In recent weeks, the Trump administration has quietly taken steps to undo what few protections trans students have for accessing education.
Eliminating Civil Rights Investigations
The Trump attack on queer youth has taken numerous forms, but one of the most troubling is the reduction in capacity at the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
In the past, the Office of Civil Rights was responsible for investigating complaints about civil rights abuses, including those relating to LGBT issues. The office specifically investigated whether schools had a history of abuses, so that they could address systemic problems instead of going on a case-by-case basis.
But that’s all changed now. The Trump administration has begun the process of reducing resources for those investigations, which means that many problems will simply go unaddressed. If you’re attending a school with systemic homophobia, you may simply be out of luck.
Erasing Obama’s Protections
Under President Obama, the Department of Education advised schools that a law known as Title IX required that trans students get an equal access to education, consistent with their actual affirmed gender.
Undoing that guidance was one of the first orders of business of the Trump administration. And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has refused to commit to even basic protection for trans students. All she would say is that she would make sure schools follow federal law — but since the administration now says that federal law doesn’t protect trans kids, that’s not really saying much.
And it doesn’t stop there. They’re even wiping out findings of discrimination made under the Obama administration. In at least one case, the Office of Civil Rights reversed a finding that a school violated a trans student’s civil rights; and then they simply closed to case. No more investigation … because they said so.
Trump is Emboldening Other Bigots
Another cause for concern is the increasing boldness of anti-LGBT groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF has been attacking queer people for decades — pushing policies around the world that would incarcerate people simply for being gay, for example. And in the last few years, they’ve devoted more energy to going after schools, with a focus on limiting trans access to bathrooms.
The Trump administration has made the ADF’s job far easier. Not only are schools being told that previous protections no longer apply, Donald Trump went so far as to appoint a Supreme Court justice who is skeptical of LGBT rights.
Sure enough, the Trump-affiliated justice, Neil Gorsuch, wrote a dissent opposed to equality, and in another case ruled that it should be easier for states to give taxpayer money to religious schools. That’s a problem, since those religious schools aren’t required to have nondiscrimination policies. Americans could soon find that their tax dollars are propping up homophobic schools.
LGBTQ Advocates are Fighting Back
It may seem dire now, but longtime LGBTQ activists have faced similar challenges — and worse. Groups like The Matthew Shepard Foundation, Soulforce, and the ACLU are dedicated to exposing civil rights abuses and forcing the government to address them.
These days, the government seems less and less likely to be concerned with issues affecting their citizens. Politicians and authorities can’t be counted on for support, but that’s nothing new for longtime activists — for decades, queer support organizations have been reaching out to youth to make sure they have the resources that authorities can’t provide. Under Obama, that was increasingly unnecessary. But those long-standing support networks are likely to find new use in the difficult years lying ahead.
Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.