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Trump Administration Fails to Protect Trans Youth, Rescinds Obama’s Guideline Extending Protections to Students

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In a move that surprises just about nobody, the Trump administration rolled back guidelines regarding transgender student bathroom usage. The guideline, issued by President Obama, urged schools at every level to extend nondiscriminatory policies to students who identify as transgender.

It took both the Justice and the Education departments (the heads of which are Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos, respectively) to come together on the ruling to rescind the guideline. What’s interesting, however, is that DeVos initially opposed the first draft of the order to rescind, saying she was “uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students,” according to the New York Times. Of course, faced with the chance to defy both the President and Sessions, she ultimately ended up siding with the both of them. So much for protecting students, I guess.

And that’s the thing here, really: much of the thrust behind the rescission comes from this false narrative that cis students would be at risk if trans students were allowed to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. These discriminatory policies barring trans students from a basic human right (using the bathroom) are supposedly moves meant to protect students, but what conservatives and the religious right seem to refuse to understand is that there hasn’t been a single case of any student pretending to be trans to gain access to a bathroom.

It’s a harmful, ultimately destructive urban legend, a story that has no basis in any factual or historical record. Despite being a completely untrue, the story persists, preying on many peoples’ fears over their children’s safety (which, again, is absolutely not being threatened by other trans students).

What’s especially sad is that for many people, this move doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Shortly after the election, Vice President Mike Pence promised that they would be going after transgender students, contending that “the transgender bathroom issue can be resolved with common sense at the local level.” Of course, as you and I and all of us (should) know by now, discrimination isn’t okay at any level, whether it’s federal or state.

It would also take a really dense, deliberately news-avoidant person to not be aware of the fact that many states are moving towards more discriminatory practices regarding trans students. North Carolina has made headlines so many times before regarding their HB2 bathroom bill, so has South Dakota (the first state to do so), Tennessee, Texas, and more. For the federal government to pull back on a civil rights issue while raising their hands and citing “state independence” is irresponsible. Civil rights issues are supposed to be handled at the federal level, not the state level. They knew damn well what the states are going to do now that the federal government has (mostly) bowed out of the conversation.

One glimmer of hope, though, rests with Gavin Grimm’s Supreme Court hearing. The move here by the Justice and Education departments can be seen as the federal government’s declaration of stance to the Supreme Court, but it’s ultimately one blow (albeit a major one) in a much larger fight. Grimm’s Supreme Court case revolves around Title IX, a constitutional amendment that protects students from sex-based discrimination. What’s interesting about Title IX is that the language is unclear regarding whether it also extends to discrimination based on gender identity.

Former President Obama’s order didn’t exactly extend that protection to trans students, rather it provided guidelines for schools to offer that protection to their students. It’s because of this somewhat-flimsy “guideline” status that the Trump administration was able to rescind the guideline.

But at the end of the day, it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide on whether Title IX includes trans students or not. If the historically progressive-leaning Court decides to extend such protections to trans students (and make no mistake, they should), it’d be much more difficult for the administration to go after trans children in the future. A lot hinges on the court case, not the least of which is (and I say this without hyperbole) the future of trans children in America.

Republicans at the state level, predictably, are framing the rescission as one that was a response to former President Obama’s policies. According to Reuters’ report on the proceedings, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama’s attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change.” Why anybody would be against the protection of marginalized children mystifies me, but that’s the stance they’re taking here, so fuck that.

Listen: I’ve said it here so many god damn times before. Trans children deserve protection. Trans children deserve protection from adults who are seemingly more concerned with their genitalia than the other children they’d be sharing the bathroom with. Actual children, teenagers, and young adults are being sold down the river because some Republicans feel bitter over Obama’s progressive policies. Whose fault is that, really? Because it sure as hell isn’t those students’ fault.

A statistic that’s often trotted out due to how staggering it is breaks down the suicide rate of young trans people. According to the Trevor Project and the 2015 trans survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, “40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.” On a personal note, as one of the people who fall under this statistic, it just straight up hurts my heart to think that such percentages may very well go up as a direct result of this move by the administration. No child, teenager, or young adult should have to think that suicide is any kind of suitable alternative to life itself. But when you make that person’s life a living hell (and I cannot stress this enough) with discriminatory policies and far-reaching decisions to take away their rights, that’s exactly the kind of situation you put these already-vulnerable people into.

These moves taken by the federal government more widely reflect the already pandemic-levels of hatred and distrust for trans people. In the same way racially-based hate crimes have seen an uptick since the election, outward discrimination and violence against trans people has become more and more public. This is especially true for trans people of color, who, even during the Obama administration, were disproportionately targeted for violent attacks.

The last thing any government needs to be doing is making children feel like they’re unwelcome, unhealthy, or otherwise unwell. The last thing any decent human being needs to be doing is dehumanizing trans children under the false banner of protecting other children. Trans youth are already at risk, and this administration has made it 100% clear that they’re absolutely okay with placing them into harm’s way even more.

It’s sickening.

As a personal note to trans youth, closeted or out, who may be reading this: I need you to know there is nothing wrong with you. You are not less than anybody else. You are wonderful and excellent and you deserve to be alive and free and equal. I want to apologize for the fact that we have not made it completely safe for you to be who you are. I admire your strength and your bravery, and though you might not feel either of those things right now, please know that you exemplify those very heroic traits with every continued breath you take. The world is so, so much better, brighter, and stronger for having you in it.

As Laverne Cox once said: “loving trans people is a revolutionary act.” Dearest one, I love you. Know that the revolution begins with you. And here’s the secret that these discriminating people in power don’t want you to know: you are not alone.

Should you ever feel alone, though, know that there are places for you to go.

The Trans Lifeline is always open, and it’s staffed by trans people for trans people. You can reach them by phone at 877-565-8860The Trevor Project is also available at 866-488-7386, along with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Many, if not all of these places also have text lines open for anybody who might not feel up to talking.

(image via Shutterstock)

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