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HARTE: Title IX proposal harmful to transgender students

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HARTE: Title IX proposal harmful to transgender students

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The Trump administration is considering rolling back protections for transgender people under federal civil rights laws. This policy is harmful for transgender students at Marquette and schools around the nation, as it limits students’ abilities to raise legal complaints about treatment based on their gender identities.

The Department of Health and Human Services is leading an effort to define gender as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” according to a leaked memo obtained by The New York Times. It does not recognize people who have a different gender identity than the one they were born into, such as transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

The new definition would affect the interpretation of Title IX, which bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX applies to almost all universities in the U.S., both public and private, including Marquette. Under the proposed change, transgender students would no longer be able to seek government help in fighting discrimination experienced at their universities, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The leaked memo led to the trending hashtag #WontBeErased, a reference to the feeling among many transgender people that the Trump administration is trying to erase them from society.

In the wake of the memo, Marquette must reaffirm its commitment to supporting transgender students. These students are likely concerned that their protection from gender-based discrimination will be taken away if the university faces less obligation to investigate these cases or continue existing protections.

The proposed policy would reverse civil rights progress for transgender students made under the Obama administration. In May 2016, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague Letter,” which explicitly stated that “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”

The rollback of civil rights protections would be especially harmful because of high levels of discrimination faced by transgender students. Twenty-five percent of LGBTQ adults believe transgender people are often discriminated against when applying to or attending college, according to a national survey by NPR, The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2017.

Major areas of discrimination faced by transgender students include university housing and bathroom use. About 20 percent of transgender students report being denied gender-appropriate housing, according to research by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2014. More than 23 percent reported that they were at some point not allowed to use appropriate bathrooms or other facilities at school.

The rollback also fails to recognize greater societal oppression faced by transgender people. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 29 transgender people died due to fatal violence in 2017—the highest number ever recorded. Several of these cases involved a clear anti-transgender bias by the perpetrator. Transgender teens are also significantly more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender teens, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Marquette currently offers a variety of resources for transgender students. These include gender neutral bathrooms in residence hall lobbies and gender identity discussion groups with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

In response to the proposed change, university administration should announce that it rejects any changes to Title IX that take away protections for transgender students. It should also assert that discrimination complaints by transgender students will be taken seriously.

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