Yesterday, Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stripped away protections the Obama administration introduced that allowed trans students across the country to use school bathrooms based on their gender identity, not their birth-assigned sex. Trump’s team claims they are only analyzing the matter before putting forth their own plan. But to many this is a clear signal that the Trump administration is targeting LGBTQA people.
This news sent social media into overdrive last night, with allies and advocates coming out in force to declare themselves friends to the trans children who feel threatened. But what exactly does the rescinding of Obama’s directive mean? Immediately, very little.
On MSNBC, Pete Williams explains. Last May, Obama sent a letter to public schools across the country that declared they could lose their federal funding if they barred trans youth from using the bathrooms of their preference. However, a federal court “almost immediately” put that letter on hold. So it’s had no impact beyond showing the then president’s intention to protect trans students, giving them the respect and decency to use a bathroom and recognizing their gender identity as valid. Because the letter had not gone into effect, Trump’s pulling it has no “practical effect” on schools’ policy. And Williams notes the White House says, “While we’re withdrawing the guidance, all schools must ensure all students—including LGBT students—are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
Now is that lip service? Probably. On the campaign trail, Trump insisted he was a friend to the LGBTQA community, infamously tempting Twitter with “Ask the gays.” It was a move that backfired, and played poorly to his GOP base. So when Governor Mike Pence was brought on as his running mate, many saw it as a way to comfort homophobic Trump fans. Pence has described gay marriage as a sign of “societal collapse,” and has regularly opposed pro-LGBTQA legislation, including The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and Obama’s bathroom bill guidance to public schools.
While the White House is insisting this is a matter of memos that weren’t properly vetted, Sessions and DeVos where quick to kick it back to States Rights. The Washington Post reports Sessions said, “Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue.” And DeVos echoed the issue as “best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.” But let’s never forget that “states rights” has been the rallying cry of bigots since the Civil War.
By removing Obama’s letter without implementing a directive of their own, the Trump administration has slyly made it clear they don’t care for trans youth. As actress and trans activist Laverne Cox declared during her Daily Show appearance, bathroom bills are about trans people’s right to exist in public spaces, period. So to strip away even Obama’s meager protection is to reject that trans people are allowed to exist.
Cox also spoke about Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old trans man, who is going to the Supreme Court in March, suing the Department of Education for his right to use the boys bathroom at his school. This marks the first time the Supreme Court is facing an issue of transgender rights, and it could prove monumental for the movement.
This is the big fight, not Trump’s latest headline grab. Which is not to say his move yesterday doesn’t matter. It does, because it’s made trans people across the country feel threatened, and feel that their president—because like it or not, he’s all our president—doesn’t care about their safety or simple human dignities. It wasn’t a dog whistle to the right. It was a war cry, even if Trump doesn’t know it. And the Resistance will stand together and bring the fight to his door as often as we must.
But while the Human Rights Campaign and other advocate groups organize marches and protests and rallies, take a moment to reach out to a trans person in your life and let them know you’re there, and that you have their back. And if you don’t know a trans person personally, send your own signal by sharing the images below on social media.
Let’s close with some words of wisdom from the wonderful and resilient Riley Silverman:
The thing I want most in this world is for my generation to be the last lost generation of queer children.— Riley Silverman (@ryesilverman) February 23, 2017