Center on the Issues: Transgender Rights

Within forty-eight hours after Attorney General Sessions was sworn into office, he signaled that the current administration would not implement former President Obama’s guidance protecting transgender students in federally funded schools. In May 2016, schools and colleges were directed to provide transgender students with access to bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity. Not doing so would have put their federal funding in jeopardy.

The Justice Department in issuing the directive cited Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination at educational institutions in their decision and opposition cited religious conviction and state’s rights. Texas and 12 other states challenged the guidance based on a technicality that proper procedure was not followed.

While in the Senate, Sessions opposed Hate Crimes legislation because he believed that LGBTQ people did not “face that kind of discrimination.” During his confirmation hearings, he cited his commitment to religious freedom as a high priority when asked about LGBTQ rights. Just after being confirmed, he rolled back support for transgender students is in keeping with his public record.

Though transgender individuals can continue to claim discrimination under Title IX, having the support of the federal government would have made such a challenge feel more hopeful.

The move by the current administration is less about broad scale change and more about setting the tone that they are not in favor of supporting the rights of transgender individuals, the most vulnerable part of our LGBTQ community. We must remember that transgender individuals have suffered greatly at the hands of mainstream society as well as by LGBQ groups who have not recognized transgender contributions to the movement and worse, who have at times chosen to leave out transgender rights in favor of increasing the likelihood of gaining LGB protections.

Transgender individuals have been at the forefront of confronting anti-LGBTQ discrimination while not having nearly as many resources at their disposal. We must rise together to ensure that their lives are protected and we must remain vigilant regarding even the slightest rolling back of support to the transgender community by the current administration.

On the horizon in March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Gavin Grimm, the Virginia teenager whose school board seeks to block him from using the boy’s bathroom. With Sessions’ immediate withdrawal of the administration’s support for transgender individuals, the full breadth of LGBTQ community support for Gavin and his family, and of transgender people across the nation, is more important than ever.

Here is what you can do:

· Call your legislators to tell them how you feel about the Attorney General’s action. You can find a listing here and here.

· Tell Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions: the transgender guidance changes lives.

· Educate yourself about Transgender issues.

· Ensure that your organizing and community building efforts include and center transgender voices.

· Get involved with Center on Halsted and our upcoming Transgender Day of Visibility Artist Showcase on March 31st. Our Call for Artists is still open!

· Contact our Director of Transgender Relations & Community Engagement Vanessa Sheridan at vsheridan@centeronhalsted.org.

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