On March 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared before the House Appropriations Committee to answer questions about the administration’s first year in office. While I had no shortage of questions for her, one of my top priorities was asking her about her department’s failure to protect the rights of transgender students.
During the Obama administration, the Department of Education issued guidance to public schools explaining that schools should allow students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in accordance with basic civil rights law under Title IX.
I heard from plenty of teachers and administrators throughout Wisconsin who were either already acting in accordance with the new rule, or gladly welcomed guidance on this important issue.
However, Secretary DeVos rescinded the Obama-era guidance in 2017, robbing transgender students of rights which should be afforded to every public school student.
In February of this year, Secretary DeVos continued to discriminate against transgender students by announcing that her department would not investigate any complaints filed by transgender students who had been banned from restrooms that match their gender identity.
When this happened, I couldn’t help but think of Ashton Whitaker, a young man from my home town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, who is currently a first year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2016, Ashton rightly challenged his school to allow him to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity. Courts affirmed that forcing this young man to use the wrong restroom constituted illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.
In 2018, we should not need a refresher on basic discrimination. Rescinding someone’s rights, which have been upheld in court, on the basis of their gender identity is wrong. Refusing to listen to complaints from a certain population of students is wrong.
Secretary DeVos has consistently shown her willful ignorance when failing to visit underperforming schools, as well as her mean-spirited, anti-LGBT views when denying rights to certain students. At some point, she should realize that as Secretary of Education, she is supposed to represent all students, not just a select few.