Many LGBTQ individuals under President Trump’s administration fear continue to fear for their rights. In his first hundred days in office, Trump has already challenged the rights of LGBTQ individuals by rescinding rules previously set under former President Obama that protected bathrooms for transgender students. The Obama administration offered protection for students to use bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity rather than biological sex. In a joint letter from the Justice Department and the Education Department, it was written that the Obama administration’s directive was “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.” As The New York Times notes, this plants the Trump administration “firmly in the middle of the culture wars that many Republicans have tried to leave behind.”
This move has created a rift in the Trump administration. It was initially unsupported by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was noted in The New York Times to have feared the potential harm that could befall transgender students if the bathroom protections were lifted. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, has openly opposed LGBTQ rights; he, along with President Trump, pressured DeVos into dropping her opposition. These measures proved ineffective, however, as on the night the directive was released, DeVos released a statement reminding schools of their “moral obligation” to protect all students from discrimination. However, she reiterated the administration in their decision that bathroom regulations would be best mandated at a state or local level, rather than as a federal decree.
Bathroom rights will continue to be a divisive issue within the United States, but there is hope for LGBTQ individuals. The hope starts with resistance to state efforts to oppose bathroom protections for transgender individuals. Last year, for example, North Carolina passed the HB2 bill, known as the “bathroom law”, which severely limited bathroom rights for LGBTQ individuals. It specified that individuals must use the bathroom which corresponded to their at-birth sex, rather than their gender identity. The passage of HB2 evoked instant criticism and resulted in widespread boycotting of North Carolina’s businesses. The National Basketball Association moved their All-Star game out of Charlotte, and the National College Athletics Association also moved championship games out of North Carolina. Due to the severely deleterious effects of the boycotting on North Carolina’s economy, HB2 was repealed in late March this year. However, the repeal is considered imperfect and does not fully repeal HB2. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has stated that “in a perfect world, with a good General Assembly, [they] would have repealed HB2 fully […] and added statewide protections for LGBTQ individuals.”
By contrast, California provides examples of successful bathroom protections for transgender individuals. After President Trump withdrew federal guidelines for protections on bathroom usage, Bill Ainsworth of the California Department of Education stated that they “have a state law requiring access to bathrooms and locker rooms for those students in accordance with their gender identity.” California’s law was passed in 2013, one of the first of such protective laws passed nationwide. Furthermore, in 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed bill AB1732 into effect, which required all single-stall toilets in California to be designated as gender neutral. This was called the nation’s “most inclusive restroom access law” by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, who further hopes that laws such as this one can counter the hateful laws passed in other states, such as North Carolina’s HB2. The bill was sent to Governor Brown in August last year, one day after the Obama administration’s federal bathroom law had been blocked by a federal judge temporarily. So far, no significant boycotts have set back California’s economy.
In a comparison between the two states, it becomes clear that progressive and protectionary laws gain greater support from the nation. Even in a conservative state, the impact of anti-transgender laws can have a negative impact on the quality of life of everyone in the state, not only on transgender individuals. President Trump’s administration’s order is behind the times. One can only hope that Gavin Grimm’s case, in which he sued his Virginia school over their bathroom access policy, set to be heard by the Supreme Court next month, can change the nation’s bathroom access policies on a federal level to make them more inclusive of all individuals, regardless of their gender identity.