President Donald Trump has dropped a pending legal challenge against an injunction that bans transgender students from using school facilities that correspond to their gender identity, ending an effort mounted by the Obama administration to protect LGBTQ youth.
The move was announced Friday, coming amid other signals that Republican-led states are seeking to dismantle recent gains for LGBTQ rights.
"This is a callous attack on hundreds of thousands of students who simply want to be their true selves and be treated with dignity while they work to get an education, just like every other student," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, which launched a resource center for impacted families in the wake of Trump's election, said in a statement. "Transgender students thrive when treated equally, but too often, they are not."
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice (DOJ) held that Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, protects the rights of transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.
A lawsuit filed last year by more than a dozen Republican governors challenged the order, bolstered by an injunction handed down in August by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Texas, who wrote that allowing transgender students to use gender-consistent facilities threatens the privacy of their peers. The injunction applied nationwide.
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The Obama administration had planned to challenge O'Connor's ruling, asking that it apply only to the 13 states that filed the lawsuit, with oral arguments scheduled for this year. But under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose hard-right policies stirred widespread outcry from civil rights groups after his confirmation late Wednesday, the department swiftly dropped the effort.
Chad Griffin, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Friday, "After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his 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. It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests. President Trump must immediately reverse course and direct the DOJ to uphold guidance protecting transgender students," Griffin said.
Keisling continued, "The Trump administration's action—yet another in an already long line of attacks on civil rights—is sure to empower bullies. But it does not change the fact that federal law protects transgender students. It will not change the fact that the nation's education leaders and more and more schools in every part of the country are supporting them. Transgender students are not going away, and it remains the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students."