Colleges plead to Betsy DeVos to “strongly advocate” for transgender students that would be affected by administration’s considered redefinition of gender, reported the Hill.
In response to the Trump Administration’s move to consider defining gender as an unchangeable state assigned at birth, university leaders from Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote a letter to Department of Education head Betsy DeVos, urging her to protect the transgender students who would be effectively erased if the policy were to be implemented.
The letter includes a passage which asks DeVos to, “strongly advocate for an interpretation of Title IX (and other federal laws) that fully protects the rights of transgender people — an interpretation grounded in the law, medical judgment, compassion, and a firm commitment to respect the dignity of all Americans.”
However, if DeVos’s history on civil rights issues under her department’s jurisdiction serve as an indication, it seems unlikely that she will be receptive to letter’s plea. In her time as Secretary of Education, DeVos has closed over 1,200 civil rights probes opened under the Obama administration.
She has also decreased the number of investigations conducted by the Department. Revisions to the agency’s manual allow the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to throw out cases that indicate, as the Department’s spokesperson Liz Hill said, “a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients.” Cases might also be dismissed if they might pose an “unreasonable burden” on the office’s resources.
Since her nomination, DeVos has sent mixed signals on whether she believes in protections for LGBTQ students. In an infamous exchange with Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, DeVos was asked if state dollars would go to fund vouchers for schools like the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Indiana, which openly discriminates against LGBTQ students and families. DeVos evaded the question, at first trying to redirect to another topic and then stating, “For states that have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”
When pressed further on her response, DeVos refused to say whether her department would allow states to disperse federal dollars to schools with discriminatory policies. Instead, she chose to talk vaguely about parents being the best equipped to make education choices for their children.
“I am shocked that you can’t come up with one example of discrimination where you would stand up for students,” Clark said as the gavel tapped to remind her that her time was over.
Later, sources told news outlets that DeVos opposed Trump on his move to rescind Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools. Yet when the decision was issued, DeVos appeared supportive, though she said, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment.
DeVos has supported voucher programs that allow parents to use state dollars to choose where their child goes to school. Under these programs, parents could send their children to private schools, often with religious affiliations, that have policies that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students.
These policies have human consequences. In 2017, Alex Howe, a transgender student recently graduated from high school, filed a complaint with the Department of Education for the problems he faced. Howe had to walk far out of the way of his classrooms to use the school’s only unisex bathrooms. On sports trips, he was not allowed to share hotel rooms with his male teammates.
His mother told Politico, “He would see his therapist and they would increase his antidepressants…He would say it’s schoolwork and debate, but I thought it was more. He was stressed all the time. He was upset, he was depressed, he was anxious. He would get angry at home.”
The Department of Education dismissed Howe’s case.