Earlier this year, Texas filed a lawsuit against the federal government—joined by Georgia and nearly a dozen other states—challenging non-binding guidelines from the Obama administration that said, under Title IX interpretations of sex non-discrimination, public schools should allow transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
That case (State of Texas v. United States) was heard over a week ago by Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, TX—and yesterday he issued a preliminary nationwide injunction, meaning school districts cannot be penalized for prohibiting students from using the bathroom that corresponds with who they are.
Though the injunction only applies to transgender students’ protections under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the lawsuit goes much further and also challenges the federal interpretations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at work.
For several years now, federal agencies including the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Health & Human Services have interpreted Title VII and Title IX prohibitions to include discrimination based on gender identity—meaning, students and workers cannot be discriminated against and treated unfairly for being transgender.
We will continue to monitor the State of Texas v. United States case closely. In the interim, here are our three major takeaways what it means for transgender students as they go back to school.
1. This court case was a blatant attack on transgender people with a sole purpose of enshrining them as second-class citizens under the law and inflicting discrimination in their everyday lives.
The intention of Title IX is to protect real Americans from discrimination. Yet not a single voice of a transgender student was even heard or taken into consideration, and thus the judge completely failed to consider the whole point of Title IX, which is to protect students. Real targets of discrimination—transgender students—were invisible in these proceedings.
Ultimately, this ruling is out of step with the values of treating everyone fairly and equally that we all share as Americans, and it will not stand.
2. One lower court ruling by a single judge in a very conservative district is not binding and changes nothing about the substantive legal rights of transgender students in America.
Judge O’Connor’s ruling is largely symbolic. It does not mean that transgender students cannot use restrooms and facilities that match who they are. And it does not change the fact that in districts across the country, schools are already treating transgender students equally by working with them to implement inclusive policies.
When the Obama administration issued non-binding guidelines on how schools can ensure transgender students are treated fairly and equally, it signaled to transgender students: “We have your back.”
O’Connor’s ruling, by contrast, sends the unfortunate message that certain state governments do not value the lives of transgender students equally.
Ultimately, though, this ruling does not change the fact that there is growing legal precedent in support of transgender protections under Title IX. 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 file complaints with school districts that discriminate against transgender people.
3. Protections under Title VII and Title IX are important. But explicit transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws are necessary.
The many moving pieces in the courts and multiple lawsuits underscores a critical need to ensure that transgender protections are permanently codified into state and federal law. Protection from discrimination is too foundational and important a value to leave to the discretion of individual judges or jurisdictions.
Georgia must work to advance a transgender-inclusive non-discrimination law and make much-needed protections permanent through statute.
If you are a transgender student in Georgia and you think you’ve been discriminated against, click here to learn more about a new one-of-a-kind tool aimed to reduce discrimination in schools and connect impacted trans students with advocates and resources.SHARE THIS STORY