DOE Tells Trans Students Their Complaints Don’t Matter

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that it will no longer investigate complaints by trans students who are banned from using school bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Last week BuzzFeed News spoke with DOE press secretary Liz Hill, about the department’s position on whether or not trans students are protected under Title IX, a federal law which protects students in federally-funded schools from gender discrimination. Hill responded that Title IX does not protect against gender identity, only biological sex, then claimed that forcing students to use a bathroom which does not match their gender identity is not a violation of the law.

Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice declared that schools need to respect trans and gender nonconforming students according to their gender identity, including names, pronouns,dress code and their access to restrooms. School administrators, LGBTQ advocates, and trans and gender nonconforming students themselves pressured the administration to provide this guidance after a series of discrimination cases filed by the ACLU, including Gavin Grimm, a trans student whose school denied him access to the men’s bathroom for two years.

Soon after Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education Betsy Devos was appointed, she decided to undo those protections. Since then, the National Center for Transgender Equality reports that the current administration has implemented over 20 anti-trans and anti-LGBT actions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ban of using the word “transgender” in official documents, and 17 states which have introduced anti-trans bathroom legislation.

We are already seeing consequences of Devos’ abhorrent decision: HuffPost reports that at least three student complaints have been ignored by the DOE over the last few months. One trans student from Texas reports that high school administrators have discriminated against him for two years by not allowing him to use the bathroom of his gender identity and prohibiting him from travelling overnight with his male peers on school trips.

Preventing trans students from using the bathroom or locker room of their choice exacerbates the mental and emotional stress to which young trans people are already so vulnerable. Requiring a person to use a certain bathroom can cause the student to out themselves as trans and possibly invite bullying, harassment, and physical violence. And discrimination against trans youth not only impacts their mental health, but also their academic achievement. According to GLSEN’s 2015 School Climate Survey, trans students who experience discrimination report lower GPAs, are more likely to skip school to avoid harassment, and are less likely to graduate on time with their peers.

The DOE’s decision to stop investigating discrimination complaints from trans students is infuriating and contradictory to the law. It is a transphobic power play to police gender expression and the wellbeing of trans youth.

The fight is never over – parents of trans students are calling on Devos to use her power and responsibility to ensure all students have equal access to a safe and supportive school environment. Their letter to Devos is clear and unapologetic:

“These are students who need full support from our federal government — particularly the agencies tasked with protecting youth from discrimination. These are students who are put at daily physical, emotional, and psychological risk when they are offered no recourse for discriminatory actions taken by educators, administrators, school staff, and peers. And these are students whose dignity and opportunities should not depend on their state or zip code.”

GLSEN reports that there are at least 150,000 trans students between the ages of 13-17 in the U.S. Our government, whose purpose is to uphold our liberties, should not abuse their power to perpetuate transphobia.

Image Credit: CNN


Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

Read more about Amanda

Join the Conversation