On Wednesday, the U.S. administration revoked a guidance that had allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms according to their sexual orientation of choice, instead of the sex stated on their birth certificate.
The move reversed a landmark initiative of former U.S. President Barack Obama, and is now causing outrage among civil rights activists and transgender students.
Among them is the now-famous Gavin Grimm, a transgender student activist from Gloucester High School, Virginia. Grimm is in a legal battle against Gloucester County school board to declare that he should be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his school, which corresponds with his gender identity.
In response to the guidance withdrawal, Grimm told Huffington Post:
“As a transgender student and thinking about transgender students everywhere, hearing that your presidential administration has gone out of its way just to further discriminate against you… it’s very upsetting and disappointing news.”
“Transgender students pose no threat to the safety or privacy of non-transgender students. We all just want to be able to do well and succeed in school while still being able to be ourselves.”
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) February 23, 2017
While Grimm’s legal battle has been in the news for years, it was the Grammy’s last week that put Grimm in the spotlight when actress Laverne Cox gave a shout-out to the student:
“Everyone, please Google ‘Gavin Grimm.’ He’s going to the Supreme Court in March. Hashtag stand with Gavin,” Cox told the audience.
The Obama-era guidance that was issued last May argued that prejudice against transgender students violated Title IX, the 1979 statute that prohibits sex discrimination in guidance. Arguing that this protection extended to gender identity, Obama had instructed public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom corresponded to their gender identity.
This sparked a backlash in several states and initiated the legal challenge in the courts.
Yesterday, the Trump administration lifted the guidance so that states and localities can decide on this issue without federal intervention.
While President Trump has said that he is determined to protect the rights of all American people, including the LGBTQ community and that transgender people should use whichever bathroom they were comfortable with, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer said on Wednesday that “certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level”.
The Education Department pointed out that despite this change, the Obama-era policy was technically already put on hold and its implementation blocked by a Texas judge last August.
But blocked or not, Trump’s action to revoke the action is seen by Grimm and other activists as a huge setback for the LGBTQ community.
“This is about justice, it’s about what’s right, and it’s about our children. If this Administration truly wants America to be great, it can start by making it a place in which our children needn’t fight every day just to be themselves,” said a statement this week from Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
In light of this change, protests have been held outside the White House, with Eliza Byard of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network calling Spicer’s characterisation of this issue as a matter of states’ rights as “obscene”.
“The fact is that no child in America should have their rights subject to their ZIP code,” Byard said to NPR.
Whereas others have also been prompted to stand up for trans youth online:
To young trans folk: Remember this is your school too. You deserve equal access, affirmation & education. You belong. Nothing is wrong w you
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) February 23, 2017
On the other end, conservative activists lauded the move, saying it upholds students’ right to privacy.
“Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues,” said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy to BBC.
“It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity.”
Grimm, however, stays positive in the midst of this. He hopes that Trump’s actions will serve as a rallying call for transgender people and their allies to pull together and “make sure positivity and love and progress is still predominant in the community”.
“I hope that this is only a small bump in the road that is otherwise trending forward,” he added.