Late Wednesday, President Donald Trump's administration revoked Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities based on their gender identity.
Obama's directive last May was praised as a civil rights victory. The guidelines pointed to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination by schools, as the premise for protection and threatened to withhold funding for schools that didn't comply. But opponents argued Title IX didn't extend to a person's gender identity and the federal government shouldn't get involved. Thirteen states sued to stop the guidelines and a U.S. district judge in Texas put them on hold.
In a joint letter, the Justice and Education departments said the Obama guidelines do not "contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process. This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms."
"The president has made it clear throughout the campaign that he's a firm believer in states' rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
Obama's guidelines also covered other issues, like the schools' responsibility to prevent harassment of transgender children. The Trump administration's joint letter issued yesterday stated this specific safeguard should remain in place.
"Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment. All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment. The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights will continue its duty under law to hear all claims of discrimination and will explore every appropriate opportunity to protect all students and to encourage civility in our classrooms. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice are committed to the application of Title IX and other federal laws to ensure such protection."
But those angered by the reversal see the withdrawal itself as an attack on transgender children's rights and could lead to bullying against transgender kids.
"President Trump's decision to rescind anti-discrimination protections for transgender students is yet another cruel move by an administration committed to divisive policies that roll back the clock on civil rights," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement vowing to ensure his state's civil rights protections are enforced.
"Like other civil rights, transgender student access to education should not be left to the states," Owen Daniel-McCarter, executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, told the Chicago Tribune. "Here in Illinois, we are fortunate to live in one of a minority of jurisdictions with comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity."
Trump's reversal contradicts his claims of support for the LGBTQ community. Just in January, the White House said the president was determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community, when he decided to continue to enforce Obama's executive order protecting the rights of LGBT federal employees.
"The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression," the statement added.
ABC News reports multiple instances of this contradiction. For example, in a TV interview in April, Trump said, “There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble,” and lawmakers should “leave it the way it is.”
Soon after the announcement, hundreds of people gathered outside the White House in protest, chanting, "No hate, no fear, trans students are welcome here," and carrying signs that read "Transgender rights are civil rights."
Apple also spoke out against the rollback in a statement to Axios: "Apple believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination. We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections."
And people are using social media to remind us why it's so important to #ProtectTransKids :