Federal policy about which restrooms and locker rooms transgender students may use has been reversed, awakening civil rights activists.
The latest development occurred March 6, when Supreme Court sent a case about the issue back to a lower court in Virginia. The The 4th Circuit had ruled that schools should let transgender students use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identities. That ruling relied on guidance issued in May 2016 under the Obama administration.
The Trump administration’s Education and Justice departments reversed those Title IX guidelines on Feb. 22. That prompted students and parents to take to the streets Feb. 23.
The new guidelines say that rules should be be decided by each state, rather than at the federal level. Several states and cities such as Colorado and San Francisco objected to their disapproval and wish to deny transgender people entry into bathrooms of their choice.
Michigan State Junior Alex Chudzik, the president for Prism, a LGBTQ club on campus, opposes Trump’s statement and believes protection for transgender students rights should be decided at the federal level.
“I believe taking away guidelines that outline their protection is a more passive way of the government saying they do not want to go above and beyond to protect an already marginalized group,” Chudzik said.
The guideline allowing transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice was enacted in May under the Obama administration. CNN reported that the guideline was an interpretation of Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools. The Trump administration is appealing the guideline in order to further explore the “legal issues involved.”
Professor and civil rights activist David Ewoldsen said Trump’s reversal infringes on civil and human rights. After 17 years as a professor at Alabama University and several years at Ohio State, Ewoldsen settles into his new office at Michigan State University, with a poster of Malcolm X above his desk.
“I really like Malcolm X. Malcolm X argued that it’s not an issue of civil rights, it’s an issue of human rights,” Ewoldsen said.
Ewoldsen explained that allowing each state to create guidelines for transgender students only reverses America’s achievements in history and takes us back to the civil rights issues Malcolm X faced.
“Why should an African American have rights in Massachusetts, but not in Arizona? That’s the same issue here. Transgender rights shouldn’t vary by the state. If it is a right, then it is a right across the states,” Ewoldsen said.
Based on his research on media response, Ewoldsen said that people who are uncomfortable with the idea of transgender people using bathrooms of choice revolves around illusory relationships, and ingrained stereotypes.
“The statistics do not back it up that there is any type of risk of letting students to use the bathroom that matches their sexuality. To me that argument falls flat on its face,” Ewoldsen said.
MSU’s campus has taken a different approach to the issue by installing unisex bathrooms on campus for transgender students to feel safe and unidentified. MSU Prism council board member Vincent Black said unisex bathrooms are a good first step for transgender safety, but the issue has a long way to go.