A major question looms as to whether the Trump Administration’s recent reversal on federal protections allowing students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity was an isolated move or is part of a broader strategy aimed at rolling back transgender rights, said Mary Beth Maxwell, a senior policy advocate at the Human Rights Campaign, at McCourt on Thursday.
The remarks were part of a timely study group hosted by McCourt Visiting Fellow Matthew Colangelo and featuring Maxwell, a former White House staffer and Labor Department official under the Obama Administration, that explored federal policy on LGBTQ non-discrimination and that came just one day after the Trump Administration’s announcement.
Previous protections had “made a huge difference in the lives of a lot of people, and it’s one of the things people under a new administration were fearful of losing,” said Maxwell, adding that repeal has “raised the question as to what problem it is really solving, and for whom.”
The policy debate stems from Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which stipulates no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex. The law excluded protections for transgender individuals until the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 updated its interpretation of “sex” to include gender identity.
The Supreme Court will soon determine whether discrimination under Title IX includes gender identity. In the meantime, Maxwell said, repeal of the guidance does not actually change the law; schools are free to uphold protections for transgender students and are lawful in doing so.
The announcement by the Trump Administration curbs, at least temporarily, years of LGBTQ policy victories across government that have included passage of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act; repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the armed forces; ending the Defense of Marriage Act; and prohibiting job discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that LGBTQ rights expanded farther and faster during the Obama Administration than any comparable period,” said Maxwell. “The nature of the changes were sweeping and, in many cases, a long time coming.”
The speakers maintained that despite recent setbacks, supporters have reasons to be optimistic.
“Parents across the country are mobilizing themselves as advocates like never before,” said Maxwell, pointing in part to a letter penned by the Parents for Transgender Equality Council within the Human Rights Campaign, which called on the Trump Administration to not reverse Title IX guidance. “More people feel like, ‘I just can’t stay quiet, I’m going to have to do something for my kid.’”
Colangelo added that while civil rights setbacks do occur, history dictates the broader trajectory is almost always in favor of those rights.
Even so, both speakers argued that the fight for LBGTQ progress across the policy realm is far from finished.