On Sunday August 22nd, in Fort Worth, Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Reed Charles O’Connor issued a preliminary order in Texas v. United States, a case in which public officials in Texas and 10 other states are challenging nondiscrimination protections for transgender students and employees. The Court’s ruling bars the Department of Education and Department of Justice from investigating discrimination complaints from transgender students or from otherwise enforcing Title IX, a federal law that prohibits schools from discriminating based on sex, to protect transgender students from discrimination in the states that brought the lawsuit. The lawsuit was prompted by guidance issued in May of this year by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, explaining that Title IX protects transgender students and requires schools to treat them equally in all school programs and activities, including restrooms and other facilities.
Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation said, “This ruling is out of step with Americans’ shared values of fairness and freedom, and sends a dangerous message to some of our most vulnerable youth. It will not stand the test of time. The many moving pieces in the courts and multiple lawsuits truly underscore the critical need to ensure that transgender protections are permanently codified into state and federal law, once and for all!”
The Court’s ruling is binding only on the federal agencies named in the lawsuit and does not affect other courts. Across the country, the overwhelming majority of federal courts have held that federal sex discrimination laws protect transgender people. Transgender students continue to be protected under Title IX, including in Texas and the other state that filed the lawsuit. While the ruling ties the hands of federal agencies in some states, it does not affect the obligation of schools to comply with Title IX or the ability of students and their families to bring lawsuits under Title IX.
Although the ruling preliminary injunction granted on Sunday specifically targets students, the Court did not hear from any students or parents in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in May 2016, just a few weeks after the Department of Education issued guidance instructing public schools to respect transgender students as they are, so that they have a fair opportunity fully participate in school – a position long asserted by multiple federal agencies including the Departments of Justice and Education.
Chuck Smith CEO of Equality Texas, a Federation member, said “Transgender Texans, and in particular transgender kids, must be afforded the most basic dignity to use the restroom. Paxton’s actions seek to punish and harm transgender students who have done nothing wrong. We will continue to fight with the parents of these children until ALL children do not face discrimination and are treated equally under the law.”
Whatever the short-term outcome of this case, the federal government will appeal the ruling, kicking off a what will likely be a lengthy judicial process, and also seek a stay of the court’s ruling while the appeal proceeds. In the meantime, LGBTQ organizations nationwide will continue the vital work of educating Americans about who transgender people are, why nondiscrimination protections are important, how people are helped, and how no one is hurt by these critical protections.
It is important to note that this decision changes nothing about the substantive legal rights of transgender students in America. Across the country, schools are already treating transgender students equally by implementing inclusive policies, and they will continue to do so. School districts across the country have treated transgender students equally for years and already ensure equal practices and rules that the guidance proposes, without any problems. The judge did not rule that transgender students cannot use restrooms and facilities that match who they are. Transgender students continue to have the same rights they had before the guidance by the Obama administration was issued. Moreover, transgender students may and should continue to still file complaints with school districts that discriminate against transgender people.
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