By Patrick Donachie
State and city laws protecting transgender rights in city schools will continue to be enforced, city officials vowed, despite the Trump administration’s revocation of federal protections last week.
The U.S. Department of Education and Justice Department announced Feb. 26 that they were rescinding the joint guidance issued by the Obama administration in May 2016 which stated that Title IX legislation, which bans sexual discrimination in schools, extended to transgender students, including the right of a student to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
The departments dually sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter addressed to schools receiving federal funding in which they defended the revocation, saying there were a litany of judicial actions on the original guidance in progress on the state and federal appellate court level. The letter said the orders would be rescinded “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved.”
Reaction was swift from city politicians and officials, including Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who said the city Department of Education would protect students despite the federal government’s actions.
“The DOE’s Transgender Guidelines have been in place since 2014 and remain in effect in all New York City public schools,” she said. “We are dedicated to ensuring every student is provided with a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment in all school buildings, and that includes allowing students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D–Astoria), who is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, said the decision flew in the face of nearly 15 years of court and agency opinions that affirmed transgender students were protected by federal legislation against sex discrimination in schools.
“The federal government should be committed to protecting equal access to education for all students, not undermining it,” she said. “No student should face barriers to an education simply because of who they are, and no student’s dignity should be a political issue.”
In a letter to the state Education Department, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told educators to remind transgender students that under state law, schools must ensure that a student’s gender identity is not the basis for discrimination.
The City Council passed legislation in 2002 outlawing discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and in late 2015 the city’s Human Rights Commission further clarified the types of discrimination made illegal by the legislation, including someone being refused the opportunity to use a single-sex facility that was “consistent with their gender identity.”
In the 2015 announcement, the HRC said estimates indicated there were about 25,200 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in New York City, with 75 percent of transgender New Yorkers reporting they had experienced harassment and mistreatment in the workplace.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona