Trump administration withdraws protections for transgender students

The Trump administration on Wednesday rolled back protections for transgender students instituted by the Obama administration that allowed children to use school bathrooms and other facilities that correspond to their gender identities.

The Justice and Educations departments issued the new guidance after a reported dispute within the administration between Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsFBI has info suggesting coordination between Trump aides, Russia: report Poll: By 2 to 1 margin, registered voters reject Comey Bharara joining NYU Law School after being fired by Trump MORE, who backed the withdrawal, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who initially opposed doing so.

President Trump reportedly sided with Session in agreeing that the guidance should be rolled back. 

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It's the latest instance of Trump, who offered mixed signals about gay and transgender rights during the presidential campaign, siding with social conservatives on a hot-button issue. 

Sessions in a statement said that the Obama administration’s former guidelines lacked a solid foundation in preexisting law, specifically Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.

“Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue,” Sessions said.

“The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

DeVos, who has backed gay rights, issued her own statement that said her department would seek to protect all children. The administration also included language in its new guidance instructing schools to crack down on bullying of transgender students that DeVos fought for.

At the same time, she sided with the administration's position, arguing that the issue of transgender students and restrooms is “best solved at the state and local level.”

“Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students,” she said.

“I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.”

Gay rights groups and many Democrats expressed outrage at the decision. 

“No student should face discrimination at school because of who they are,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "Transgender students have the same right to a safe environment at school and in their community as everyone else.”

Religious conservatives opposed the Obama-era guidelines, arguing that students should use the bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth and that rules otherwise are improper social engineering.

The change could affect several lawsuits involving the controversial issue.

Several states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), opposed Obama's directive in court, and a Texas district court judge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction in August, putting the policy on ice. The Obama administration later appealed that decision to a federal appeals court. 
 
The decision could also have an impact on a pending Supreme Court case centered on Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia teenager barred by his school from using the boys bathroom. 
 
The justices could decide not to hear the case and instruct lower courts to decide it instead. The Trump administration sent a letter to the Supreme Court Wednesday informing them of its decision. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed the case on behalf of Grimm, vowed Wednesday’s changes would not end his legal battle.

“While it’s disappointed to see the Trump administration revoke the guidance, the administration cannot change what Title IX means,” Joshua Block, ACLU senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

“When it decided to hear Gavin Grimm’s case, the Supreme Court said it would decide what interpretation of Title IX is correct, without taking any administration’s guidance into consideration,” he added. “We’re confident the law is on Gavin’s side and he will prevail just as he did in the Fourth Circuit.” 

Updated at 8:54 a.m. Jordan Fabian contributed.