President Biden: Don’t forget LGBTQ students while honoring Title IX
Today, the Biden administration will surely celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law that protects students from sex discrimination with a promise to all students of access to a safe, fair and equal education. This celebration will happen against the backdrop of LGBTQ youth facing bullies not just among their classmates, but on school boards, in state government and in extremist groups calling for violence at Pride events.
A White House celebration of this important anniversary (which coincides with Pride month) that comes without newly proposed regulations authorizing the Department of Education and the federal government to use every legal tool available to protect LGBTQ students from bullying, harassment and violence will ring hollow.
I often think about my own experience as a gay boy in North Carolina, where the fear of being outed kept me alone and hopeless. I saw how my own LGBTQ students struggled still in the decade I spent teaching high school history after graduating from college. I understand, all too well, the price young LGBTQ people pay when they can’t be themselves and when the adults in their lives — including at school — don’t protect them.
And what I, and many other LGBTQ people, know from personal experience is backed by data. According to the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, over 80 percent of LGBTQ students reported verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity and almost 15 percent reported physical assaults.
Schools should be safe places for all students. When LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, the outcomes are serious. LGBTQ students, miss school more often, have lower GPAs, and are less likely to go to college. These problems are compounded for LGBTQ youth of color. Mental health issues are also more common amongst LGBTQ youth who do not feel safe at school and they sometimes manifest in dangerous and life-threatening ways. Forty percent of the youth surveyed in The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Health reported seriously considering suicide in the prior year alone.
The Biden administration has apparently prepared an updated Title IX rule that we have been waiting for since April. Considering the existing data and the frightening and incessant attacks on transgender and queer youth, it’s clear that the safety of LGBTQ young people in our nation’s schools is urgent.
So I ask, what are you waiting for, Mr. President? We need an updated rule now that reverses the Trump-era regulations that weakened Title IX protections against sex-based harassment. We need a rule that confirms that Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination unequivocally fully protects all students, including LGBTQ students, in educational programs and activities.
During my own youth and my days as a teacher, the bullies who tortured LGBTQ youth were other classmates. Today, the bullies are still at school, but now they are also adults who hijack school board meetings to ban books that are validating lifelines for isolated youth. Other bullies hold official positions in state government where they propose and pass laws that censor discussion of LGBTQ topics and regulate whether transgender youth can play on teams and what restrooms they can use.
Today, they wield their power with outrageous cruelty, ordering investigations of parents who help their transgender children access medically necessary health care, causing the threat of child abuse charges and separation from their families to loom ominously. Still, other bullies are white nationalists who plan violent riots to disrupt Pride events, wreaking terror in spaces where our communities go for safety, community and joyous celebration.
On the 50th anniversary of one of the most important civil rights laws for students, President Biden and his administration can make a loud and resounding statement of support for our youth by finally issuing a proposed rule that includes LGBTQ students in the full protections of Title IX. Doing so would give substance to his Day One promise that he sees them and that their safety matters.
Or, the date can pass, still with no action, leaving our vulnerable youth to continue to wait and weather this storm without the protections Congress promised them half a century ago. I urge the president to choose the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth. Then we can all truly have a happy Pride month.
Kevin Jennings founded the first school-based Gay-Straight Alliance, founded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and served as an assistant deputy secretary of education for President Obama. He is currently the CEO of Lambda Legal.
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