The letter does not carry the force of law but the message was clear: Fall in line or face loss of federal funding. Justice and Education Department officials have repeatedly made clear that under their interpretation of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law in education, schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.
“The guidance makes clear that both federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX,” the administration said Thursday.
LGBT groups praised the announcement, calling it a validation of transgender rights and a repudiation of so-called “bathroom bills” that ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex.
“These groundbreaking guidelines not only underscore the Obama administration’s position that discriminating against transgender students is flat-out against the law, but they provide public school districts with needed and specific guidance guaranteeing that transgender students should be using facilities consistent with their gender identity,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
“This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools.”
The letter emphasizes the departments’ shared position that schools must treat transgender students the way they want to be treated based on their gender identity, regardless of how others may feel about it.
Schools should let transgender students use bathrooms, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity, according to the guidance. Staff should address transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns. Schools cannot require students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate before treating them consistent with their gender identity, the guidance states.
“As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex,” the letter says.
The guidance takes the same approach to the bathroom issue: A school may provide gender-separated facilities but it must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. If a school opts for individual stalls it must make them available to all students. U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said the letter comes in response to request from schools and parents seeking guidance.