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Trump Administration Withdraws Guidelines to Protect Transgender Students

FEBRUARY 27, 2017

The Trump administration last week withdrew Title IX guidelines issued by the Obama administration last year to protect transgender students in schools and colleges from discrimination and to ensure they had access to the bathrooms and other facilities of their choice.  In a statement that accompanied new guidelines from the administration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted her department remained committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying, and harassment of the most vulnerable.  But she said the previous guidelines had given rise to legal questions and that the issue was best resolved at the state level.  

Inside Higher Education chose to highlight two Christian universities, Bob Jones University and Liberty University, in today's electronic report, stating that there is an apparent conflict between the guidelines from the Obama administration and their community standards relative to homosexual behavior and transgender identity.  The Obama guidelines state that "Title IX's sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and accepts such complaints for investigation."

However, Inside Higher Education observers acknowledge that it is highly unlikely that the Trump administration would crack down on Bob Jones University or Liberty University for an Obama-era guidance document.  In fact, if the White House even noticed a possible violation  or was pressured to challenge an institution's compliance with the guidelines, it could increase the odds that the Education Department would issue new guidance upending the Obama administration's definitions of Title IX protection for LGBT students.  

I find it rather ironic that Inside Higher Education chose to identify these two particular Christian higher education institutions knowing that there are scores of other Protestant Evangelical colleges and universities that hold very similar conduct standards related to human sexuality.  Furthermore, a large number of religious institutions, including Bob Jones University and Liberty University, have applied for and received Title IX waivers based upon religious exemption.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that private Christian colleges and universities will have their religious liberty challenged as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.  As laws are enacted at the provincial, state, or federal level, faith-based institutions will have to maintain their biblical values while responding to current and future challenges relative to Title IX, hiring practices, employment policies, recruitment requirements, financial aid accessibility, and student life standards.  

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant
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