The Trump administration will not fight for trans students’ right to use the bathroom matching their gender.
On Friday (10 February), the government announced it will not challenge a nationwide injunction on an anti-discrimination law.
Judge Reed O’Connor at the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the injunction in August 2016.
It was part of a lawsuit more than a dozen states filed against the Obama administration’s Title IX, which bans schools from discriminating ‘on the basis of sex’.
Their decision could seriously impact the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans teen suing his school board.
In 2015, Grimm sued Gloucester County School Board in federal court for refusing him to use the boy’s bathroom.
The basis for his case is Title IX.
An official at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote an opinion letter in support of Grimm.
The letter stated schools ‘must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity’.
It also defined the ‘sex’ in Title IX to mean gender identity, which the letter’s writer defined as a person’s ‘internal sense of gender’.
Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit took the letter as the basis to rule in Grimm’s favor.
The OCR sent another letter, offering schools guidance that they would have to allow trans students to use facilities matching their gender identity.
Now, the teen’s case is set to go before the Supreme Court, to determine whether the OCR’s interpretation of ‘on the basis of sex’ should carry.
First hearings are set for late March, but the government’s decision could stop proceedings.
The OCR are seen as the experts on civil rights in education.
If their opinion changes now, and the new department does not agree with its predecessors’ definition of ‘sex’, Grimm’s case could fall through without being heard.
The Obama administration also appealed the Texan injunction on the basis of the OCR’s views.
Hearings for the appeal were set to begin on Tuesday, 14 February, but the Justice Department officially withdrew the challenge on Friday.
In a legal brief they told the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit the involved parties ‘are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal’.
Because the injunction has been active since August, it will not have an immediate effect.
But activists and campaigners are worried about the decision’s meaning for Trump’s LGBTI policies.
‘It is a frightening sign that the Trump administration is ready to discard its obligation to protect all students,’ Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender equality, said in a statement.
‘Transgender students are not going away, and it remains the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students.’
She also called the decision a ‘callous attack’ on trans students’ ‘dignity and safety’.
Chad Griffins, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said dropping the challenged ‘signaled his [Attorney General Jeff Sessions’] intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students’.
‘Transgender students are entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws,’ he said.
‘It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests.’