Equity & Diversity

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Will Speak to Group That Backs ‘Bathroom Bills’

By Evie Blad — July 11, 2017 2 min read
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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will speak at a closed event Tuesday for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that has supported state-level “bathroom bills” that limit access for transgender students in school.

The group has also backed lawsuits against schools that allow transgender students to use facilities—like locker rooms and restrooms—that match their gender identity.

Sessions’ speech at the group’s Summit on Religious Liberty, which will be closed to the press, comes months after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students.

That directive told schools that they would be in violation of the Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination if they did not recognize transgender students’ gender identities in a number of areas, including pronoun usage and facilities access, or if they failed to protect students from harassment on the basis of gender identity. In rescinding the guidance, the Trump administration left it up to states and districts to interpret federal law.

The Trump administration’s move won praise from Alliance Defending Freedom, which said that President Obama left schools with “an impossible choice: sacrifice the dignity and privacy rights of their students by opening overnight facilities, locker rooms, and restrooms to the opposite sex; or protect those rights while watching the government strip away federal funding that schools spend on critical items like special-education programs and lunches for underprivileged children.”

“By overturning the prior administration’s power grab, President Trump has enabled local school boards once again to protect the dignity and privacy rights of all their students,” the group said in a statement at the time.

Trump administration officials, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, said in February that the decision to rescind the guidance would allow schools to choose for themselves how to address the needs of transgender students. The Education Department has directed its civil rights investigators to explore complaints of unaddressed bullying by transgender students while bypassing concerns about facilities access.

But schools don’t have that freedom in states that pass state-level restrictions on transgender student access. To this point, only North Carolina has enacted a so-called “bathroom bill.” Texas is expected to take one up in a special session. As the Washington Post previously reported, the Alliance Defending Freedom’s model policy on the transgender students has been used to draft such bills in at least five states.

It’s unclear what Sessions will discuss at the meeting, which takes up a line in his official schedule. The group also backs a lawsuit brought by a Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up that case in its next term.

Further reading on transgender students:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.