The federal Department of Education on Wednesday announced it will interpret Title IX protections to bar discrimination against transgender students.
“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,” said U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “I’m proud to have directed the Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX to protect all students from all forms of sex discrimination.”
That sets up a fight between Joe Biden’s administration and Florida over a new law barring trans girls and women from participating in sports events consistent with their gender identity.
The policy announcement is a shift from Education Department policy under former President Donald Trump, who shortly after taking office reversed the policy under former President Barack Obama to require bathroom and locker room access that respected students’ gender identity.
But citing more than just a philosophical difference between Democratic and Republican administrations, the DOE also cited a landmark Supreme Court ruling issued last year.
A 6-3 ruling in the Bostock v. Clayton County case. A majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, said Title VII protections under the Civil Rights Act covered discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Already, that decision was cited in a Florida case last year, Adams v. School Board of St. John County, that determined public schools must provide access to bathrooms consistent with students’ gender identity.
The administration now interprets the law to also make clear discrimination protections apply to Title IX, which since 1972 has required equal access to education and programs, most notably sports.
“The Department of Education strives to provide schools with the support they need to create learning environments that enable all students to succeed, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne B. Goldberg. “Equity in education means all students have access to schools that allow them to learn and thrive in all aspects of their educational experience. As part of our mission to protect all students’ civil rights, it is essential that OCR acts to eliminate discrimination that targets LGBTQ+ students.”
LGBTQ advocates in Florida say a new law applies just that type of discrimination.
“Florida’s Republican leadership repeatedly ignored warnings that their unnecessary and cruel Transgender Youth Sports Ban violates Title IX,” reads a statement from Equality Florida. “For nearly a decade Florida has had clear guidelines on transgender student athlete participation that worked. Bill sponsors could not identify a single issue in Florida under those policies. Republican leadership relied on fear and ignorance to manipulate the legislative process and rush through a bill that pandered to extremists in their base for votes. They are wasting taxpayer money on a law they know violates Title IX, is unconstitutional, and serves no purpose.”
The law was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, where he cited a need for fairness in women’s sports, and brought to the signing ceremony athletes from Connecticut who said they were denied a place on the podium when schools allowed trans girls to compete in track events in the state.
“First of all, it’s not me saying anything other than we’re going to protect fairness in women’s sports. We believe that it’s important to have integrity in the competition. And we think it’s important that they be able to compete on a level playing field,” DeSantis said.
“Girls are gonna play girls’ sports. Boys are going to play boys’ sports.”
Republican politicians in Florida have maintained the law is not discriminatory because it does not bar athletes from competing. Notably, it only applies to trans female athletes and not trans males.
Equality Florida disagreed and took it as a positive development to Biden administration does as well.
“Equality Florida is grateful that the Biden Administration and Secretary Cardona have affirmed these principles today and are standing on the side of LGBTQ people living and working without fear of harassment, exclusion, or discrimination,” the group’s statement reads. “This is welcome news for the LGBTQ community and specifically our transgender youth, who have borne the brunt of legislative attacks and lies in Tallahassee. They deserve the same opportunities as any other student, not lies about who they are.”
The administration position could also be important as School Boards across Florida see pushback on allowing transgender students in the bathroom facilities associated with their gender identities. The Lee County legislative delegation sent a letter to the Lee County School Board earlier this year demanding the policy stop.