A Trump-appointed judge just made it legal to discriminate against trans students

The ruling temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s Title IX guidelines on protecting LGBTQ+ students.

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Conservatives have been using their obsession with states’ rights as an alibi for resisting civil rights legislation for, well, forever. That trend continued on Friday, when a federal Trump-appointed judge ruled that directives extending civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ students can’t be enforced, The New York Times reported. The ruling is temporary for now, putting a hold on the Biden administration’s previous guidance to schools about who is protected under federal law. It’s hard to tell right now what this means for the future of civil rights in this country. For those of us who aren’t legal scholars, here’s a breakdown of what happened.

In 2020, SCOTUS ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendment, also prohibits similar discrimination on the basis of sex, specifically in educational activities that receive federal funding — like public school sports, a common topic for Republican lawmakers to focus on with anti-trans legislation.

Last year, the Department of Education (DOE) announced it would officially recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected under the Title IX regulations, after the Trump administration rolled back those protections. In a statement accompanying the updated interpretation of Title IX, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona explicitly cited that 2020 Supreme Court ruling, noting that it “upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination.” He continued, “our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections.”

But last year, a group of 20 Republican state attorneys general — representing Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia — filed a lawsuit against the DOE and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for their interpretations of these amendments, saying the guidance goes against the states’s rights to pass their own laws banning transgender students from participating in sports or using bathrooms that align with their gender identities.

Per the NYT, the Biden administration argued that lawsuit should be dismissed — and noted that the guidance issued last year hasn’t even been enforced at this point — but last week, Eastern District of Tennesse Judge Charles Atchley denied that request. In his temporary ruling, Atchley stated the federal government’s guidance “directly interferes with and threatens Plaintiff States’ ability to continue enforcing their state laws.” What that means is that as of now — and at least until the lawsuit plays out — schools can more easily discriminate against LGBTQ+ students with their anti-trans sports and bathroom policies without fear of retribution by the federal government for breaking civil rights laws.

Look, no one wants to rubberneck at the minute legal maneuvering of some homophobic blowhards, but we really need to take note of how easy it seems to be to roll back our civil rights. In better news, there is plenty of resistance to this Machiavellian legislation. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and HRC (Human Rights Campaign) are continuously filing cases to protect the civil rights of all Americans. As far as the Title IX ruling goes, it seems we’ll have to wait and see what the result of that lawsuit is. In the meantime, interim HRC President Joni Madison said in a statement that “HRC will continue to fight these anti-transgender rulings with every tool in our toolbox.” Hopefully, that toolbox includes a functioning scale of justice and a sledgehammer.