Last week, President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded an Obama-era directive that prohibited schools receiving federal funds from discriminating against transgender students. Under former President Barack Obama, the Departments of Justice and Education determined that Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender, extends these same protections to transgender Americans. This policy — which ensured the safety and equality of LGBTQ students — has effectively been reversed by Trump.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose heinous civil rights record and history of racism cost him a federal judgeship, led the charge in dismantling protections for transgender students. Sessions argued that the Obama administration had violated so-called states’ rights by protecting transgender students, shamefully implying that the states have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans.
Sessions, who fought against voting rights as Alabama’s federal prosecutor and a U.S. Senator, is probably well aware of the disgraceful atrocities — slavery and segregation for starters — that Southerners have defended by invoking states’ rights. Much like how Trump has used dog-whistles like “bad hombres”, “thugs” and “radical Muslims” to denigrate and demonize Hispanic, black and Muslim Americans, states’ rights is being used as a code word to justify the oppression of transgender students.
But, hypocritical as always, the Trump administration signaled an imminent crackdown on states that have voted to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana only one day after rolling back LGBTQ protections in the name of states’ rights. Vowing to enforce federal drug laws while declining to enforce federal anti-discrimination statutes, the Trump administration has shown that it will only respect the states when it fits their backwards agenda. Sessions, after all, once confessed to saying that he thought the KKK “was OK until he found out they smoked pot.”
In the age of Trump, colleges and universities get to decide whether or not they will respect the rights of their transgender students. So far, NYU has shown that they will. Over a decade ago, NYU adopted progressive anti-discrimination protections for transgender students and has since taken appropriate steps to ensure a safe, inclusive learning environment for them. Other colleges and universities should follow this example. But now more than ever, NYU must reaffirm its commitment to respecting and defending the dignity of its transgender students. Since the Trump administration has outright refused to do so, NYU has an obligation to continue leading the way in protecting some of the most vulnerable students in its academic community.
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