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Civil Rights Enforcement for LGBTQ Students Scaled Back Under Trump, Analysis Finds

By Evie Blad — July 29, 2019 2 min read
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Students’ discrimination complaints related to sexual orientation and gender identity have been much less likely to lead to changes in schools under the Trump administration than they did under the Obama administration, an analysis of federal records finds.

About 2.4 percent of “LGBTQ-related complaints” to the U.S. Department of Education resulted in an agreement to correct alleged discrimination against the student under the current administration, according to the analysis by left-leaning Center for American Progress. That’s compared with 22.4 percent under the previous administration.

Such complaints may be filed by lesbian, gay, bisexual students, students who face bullying and discrimination based on their perceived orientation or gender identity, or students who allege discrimination based on their families’ or parents’ sexual orientation or gender identity. The analysis used 573 complaints filed since October 2010, which the organization obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Under the Trump administration, fewer such complaints led to formal investigations in the first place by the Education Department’s office for civil rights. That may be because they didn’t meet the agency’s standards for complaints worthy of investigation, or it may be because of a shift in enforcement under the current administration.

The drop in resolutions won’t be surprising to people who have closely followed LGBTQ student issues. One of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ first acts was to rescind an Obama-era directive that said the sex discrimination prohibitions in Title IX applied to transgender students. Under that rule, schools were required to honor students’ gender identity by using their preferred pronouns, by allowing them access to restrooms and locker rooms, and by adequately responding to complaints of bullying and harassment.

The Trump Education Department later confirmed it would no longer investigate complaints related to issues like restroom access for transgender students. That decision to withdraw the transgender rights guidance was met with anger from civil rights groups and praise from some conservative organizations, which saw the Obama administration’s enforcement as federal overreach.

“This is an issue best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find—and in many cases have found—solutions that protect all students,” DeVos said when she withdrew the document.

The Center for American Progress report disagreed and argued that the administration still has a responsibility under existing law.

“LGBTQ students do have legal protections under Title IX, even if the Department of Education is failing to enforce them,” the Center for American Progress report says. “More and more courts have accepted the logical conclusion that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity are inherently forms of sex discrimination.”

Many LGBTQ-related complaints didn’t find traction under the more aggressive Obama administration either, the analysis finds. About 65 percent of such complaints from that era were dismissed or subject to administrative closure, which means the case is dismissed because it is subject to litigation or investigation by another agency.

You can read the whole analysis here.

Photo: Getty

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