Franken, Senators Outraged Over DeVos Revocation of Transgender Bathroom Guidance

DOE claims letter of guidance to schools violated federal anti-discrimination laws

Washington, D.C. – Minnesota Senator Al Franken joined five other U.S. Senators in writing a letter to Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos expressing “outrage” over DeVos’ decision to revoke federal guidelines over the rights of transgender students to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.

Title IX is the federal law which bans sex discrimination in education, but questions remain if the law’s protections include a person’s gender identity.

In 2016, The Obama administration issued a letter to schools which provided guidelines on Title IX protections to transgender and gender nonconforming students. Last month, DeVos’ department announced it was rescinding that letter of guidance to schools because it violated federal anti-discrimination laws, according to the Washington Post.

The letter to DeVos, which was written by Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and co-signed by Franken and five other senators on March 10 says, “By revoking the transgender guidance, you have put the safety and well-being of transgender students at risk.” Franken also expressed his displeasure over the decision on Twitter:

The Senators, all Democrats, claim in their letter that there is an “abundance of evidence” schools do not always create safe environments that allow transgender students to be free from discrimination and harassment during class and school activities.

The letter sharply criticizes DeVos and asks for the Secretary to clarify how her department will protect transgender students from being harassed, bullied or discriminated. The senators claim more than one-third of transgender students reported bullying or harassment in school while 60 percent of transgender youth reported being forced to use bathrooms inconsistent with their gender they identify with.

According to the Williams Institute, about 1.4 Million American adults, or 0.6% of the adult population identify as transgender,

DeVos said in a statement that her department “remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools,” and considers “protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.”

A statement by Attorney General Jeff Session on the withdrawal of Title IX guidance said, “The Department of Justice has a duty to enforce the law. The prior guidance documents did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX.  The Department of Education and the Department of Justice therefore have withdrawn the guidance.  Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue. The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”

Franken and the other senators expressed serious concern over the revocation of the guidance and requested a briefing from DeVos on how the Department of Education intends to enforce civil rights laws. The senators letter included 11 questions that they requested DeVos respond to in writing no later than Friday, March 24.  Some of these questions ask if any transgender people were consulted prior to the revocation and who specifically made the decision to revoke the guidance.

“We will never stop fighting for our students to have a safe environment to learn, and we expect no less from the U.S. Department of Education,” the letter from the senators concluded.

Donna Azarian