After transgender Americans became the targets of dozens of “bathroom bills” in state legislatures around the country this year — including North Carolina’s now infamous HB2 — President Obama has stepped up in a huge way. Earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department will file a federal civil rights complaint against North Carolina, and then spoke directly to transgender people, assuring them that the Obama administration has their back. That promise paid off again today as President Obama released a letter of guidance about trans students to public schools, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a rule under the Affordable Care Act that bans healthcare providers from denying coverage on the basis of gender identity.
The letter and the accompanying Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students sent to U.S. schools today was co-signed by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. While it’s not an executive order, it is “a letter of significant guidance,” which the New York Times calls a “sweeping directive” that will likely result in legal action if schools choose not to comply. The letter states that discriminating against trans students is a form of sex discrimination, and is therefore covered under Title IX.
Under the new guidelines, transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing that matches their gender identity, and participate in sports teams, clubs, and single-sex classes that match their gender identity. A school cannot require trans students to submit documentation or a medical diagnosis to “prove” they have a right to use the correct facilities or participate in the correct groups. Teachers and staff must use pronouns that are consistent with trans’ students identities, and must take steps to assure that other students do not create a hostile environment of harassment against trans students (which includes misgendering them).
It also provides a helpful guide to terminology, leaving schools no excuse to use violent and antiquated language when talking to and about trans students.
The ruling by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is equally firm and straightforward. Under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, insurance providers and healthcare professionals must provide healthcare — including surgeries, drugs, and other transition-related treatment — to transgender patients. Insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage based on gender identity, and any organization that receives federal funding will not be able to deny treatment based on gender identity. The rule will become effective on July 18.
As we noted after HB2, the upswing in anti-trans legislation introduced in various states this year was a broad and deliberate campaign spearheaded by the Family Research Council. As public opinion shifted in favor of not discriminating against gay people, the Conservative think tank was forced to find another group of marginalized Americans to target and scapegoat, as creating panic around a problem that doesn’t exist is the way they’ve gained and wielded power for the last several decades. The Obama administration’s work this week to stop anti-trans laws, policies, and rules in state governments, schools, and the healthcare market is a sweeping takedown of that Conservative strategy that will hopefully stop this trend in its tracks.