Today is a great day for LGBT equality and, in particular for transgender Americans. In a groundbreaking and critically important move, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released a letter today to schools across America confirming unequivocally that discrimination against transgender students is a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter, accompanied by 20 pages of best practices, sets forth in detail the legal obligations of schools to their transgender students, including ensuring equal access to restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity. The document stated explicitly that:
“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”
Last month, many of you had the opportunity to join Equality Michigan for a White House Summit in Dearborn with officials from several federal agencies to discuss issues of importance to Michigan’s LGBT community. Among them was the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OCR), Catherine Lhamon, who spoke to the administration’s commitment to equal educational opportunity for transgender students and the seriousness with which OCR treats violations of Title IX. Today’s action serves to illustrate just how serious federal officials are about protecting transgender students from discrimination.
These federal guidelines will provide school districts across the country with sorely needed and frequently requested guidance about how they can ensure that transgender students have access to the safe learning environments and the equal educational opportunities they are entitled to under Title IX. The Obama administration should be commended for taking bold and decisive action to protect transgender students across the country from harassment and discrimination at school.
Today’s action will also have a significant impact on the anti-trans bathroom inspection bill that has been proposed here in Michigan by State Senator Tom Casperson. Today’s federal guidance underscores what Equality Michigan has been saying from day one: Casperson’s proposal violates Title IX and would endanger transgender students across Michigan.
As you’ve heard from us in recent days, while Casperson has yet to introduce his bill, opposition has been mounting rapidly and includes: over 150 faith leaders, parents, leading Michigan businesses, including Kellogg, Herman Miller, Dow, and Whirlpool, the National Association of Social Workers – Michigan, Michigan Association of School Social Workers, Mental Health Association in Michigan, Michigan School Health Coordinators Association, Association for Children’s Mental Health, and many others.
Frankly, this growing chorus of opposition comes as no surprise at a time when both everyday Michiganders and a growing majority of reasonable policymakers in Lansing realize the value of building a state that is welcoming to all and that values both diversity and inclusion. In Michigan and across the United States anti-LGBT bills, like Casperson’s, have become the pet project of extremists, not the stuff of serious leaders who are working to move our state and country forward.
From every corner of our state, Michiganders have spoken out strongly in opposition to Senator Casperson’s bathroom inspection bill. Today’s action by the Obama administration makes it crystal clear that Senator Casperson’s bill would put Michigan on a collision course with federal civil rights authorities and force our schools into the impossible position of having to choose between complying with the Casperson bathroom policing law or with their legal obligations under Title IX. In North Carolina, where a similar bill was passed into law, a federal civil rights lawsuit has already been filed against the state by the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s the last thing Michigan needs.
For weeks, we’ve been hearing the fear-mongering and baseless attacks on transgender Michiganders from Casperson and others. We’ve also heard opponents of equality claim that their personal discomfort is sufficient justification for discrimination. It’s worth reading what today’s guidance had to say about that:
“[T]o ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns. As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”
I could not agree more.
Shortly after the federal guidelines were released today, Equality Michigan called on serious, future-focused lawmakers in Lansing to abandon futile and dangerous anti-LGBT proposals, like Senator Casperson’s, and to join us in working to build a Michigan that is welcoming to all, beginning with amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We’ll continue working tirelessly every day to make sure that anti-trans legislation never becomes law in Michigan and to move equality forward.
The news in the fight for full equality for the LGBT community is good this afternoon. Today, we all have something to celebrate. Tomorrow, we continue the work yet undone. Together, we will ensure that every Michigan student, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the safe school that they deserve.
* The entire federal “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students” can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/850986/download.