The Department of Education announced Tuesday that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects gay and transgender students at school, thus contradicting claims made by state legislatures intent on banning transgender athletes from competing in girls' sports that no such protection exists.
“Today, the Department makes clear that all students — including LGBTQ+ students — deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination,” education secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement, as reported by USA Today. “The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination — and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections."
USA Today points out that the announcement comes not only during Pride Month, but also during a national debate over whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in sports that match their gender identities. Such debates have prompted a wave of anti-trans legislation from Republican-led state legislatures. According to The Washington Post, more than 30 states are considering banning transgender girls from playing on girls’ interscholastic sports teams. Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and South Dakota have already enacted those bans into law, joining Idaho, which in 2020 became the first to do so.
Wednesday's news comes one year after the Supreme Court ruled gay and transgender workers are protected by the Civil Rights Act, legislation that bans discrimination in the workplace. The Education Department's interpretation says gay and transgender students will have those same protections in schools, USA Today reported.
Advocates for anti-transgender sports legislation argue that boys possess inherent physical advantages over girls that hormone therapy can't reverse to a degree that ensures competitive equity. LGBTQ+ proponents counter that such laws are discriminatory, with the potential to impact transgender individuals' mental health.
The new guidance is particularly important for students in places where state-level protections for transgender youth don’t exist, said Christy Mallory, legal director at the University of California-Los Angeles’ Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy. According to the institute, transgender adults make up a small portion of the U.S. population, about 1.4 million.
The new interpretation of the law reverses guidance issued under former President Donald Trump, whose administration rescinded guidelines that said Title IX applied to discrimination based on gender identity.
"This is a day that transgender kids and their families have been waiting for," said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, according to USA Today. The Joe Biden administration, Heng-Lehtinen said, "will defend their right to fully participate in school."