The Transgender Issue of Bathrooms Comes to Ramapo

Photo by Caleb Herbst

In light of President Trump’s rescission of Obama-era Department of Justice and Department of Education protections for transgender students, the debate over whether or not students who are transgender should be allowed to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity has been reignited. President Trump’s decision, which overruled concerns voiced by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has met strong reactions from students and faculty members at Ramapo College.

Through a joint letter, issued by civil rights lawyers of the Department of Justice and Department of Education, the Trump administration effectively reversed Obama-era protections. In May of last year, the Obama administration had disseminated a letter to schools that prohibited the discrimination of bathroom and locker room use on the basis of “gender identity.” In their interpretation of Title IX, the protections afforded to “sex” were extended to “gender identity.” According to NPR, under this interpretation, “schools that receive federal funding are not allowed to discriminate against students on the basis of sex.”

In the directive issued last Wednesday, the Trump administration had made the case that the Obama administration’s basis for protecting bathroom and locker room use for transgender students did not “contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process. This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms.”

As a result of the Trump administration’s actions, the issue has been deferred to the direction of individual states.

Concurrently, Trump’s decision exposed further rifts emerging in the administration. According to the New York Times, DeVos had originally opposed the act and was concerned that the rescission would be pernicious to transgender students. DeVos eventually acquiesced to the pressures laid by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and at the direction of the President, dropped her opposition.

With the withdrawal of federal protections for the bathroom and locker room use of transgender students, individual schools may continue to allow transgender students to use facilities of their choosing. However, the effects of this action remain ambiguous. As the New York Times reports, “A federal court had already issued a nationwide injunction barring enforcement of the Obama order.”

At the end of March, the Supreme Court is set to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a teenage transgender student from Gloucester, Virginia who was originally allowed by his school’s principal to use the boys’ bathroom before meeting resistance from parents and the school board. However, the anticipated ruling of this case remains ambiguous as there is still a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision remains critical to this issue as Grimm’s lawsuit rests on a legal interpretation of the 14th Amendment and Title IX, which as NPR writes “prohibits sex discrimination by schools.”

Recently, Jullian Todd Weiss, a Ramapo College professor and the Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, appeared on Fox News in a discussion on Obama’s policy. When asked about whether or not gender identity was an easy and static change by host Tucker Carlson, Weiss, who is a transgender person as well, responded by saying, "People make this decision after a lot of serious consideration. They see medical doctors, there’s psychologists involved. There’s a lot to think about. It’s not an easy process.”

At Ramapo College some students are advocating for more inclusiveness. Grace Maute, a junior at Ramapo, is currently working with the institution to install additional gender inclusive restrooms on campus. Currently, there are eight restrooms that have this designation, but according to Maute there is an absence of facilities in the Student Center. Maute indicated that her efforts would be directed toward installing gender inclusive facilities on the second floor of the Student Center.

Additional reporting done by Caleb Herbst