Transgender students stand to gain leverage in lawsuits over access to bathrooms and participation in school sports following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on LGBT workers’ rights. The decision raises the stakes for the Trump administration, which faces growing pressure to revamp its guidance to colleges and K-12 schools.
“It signals that schools, just like employers, have to ensure the fair treatment of LGBT people, including students and employees,” said Adele Kimmel, a senior attorney at Public Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The high court ruled June 15 that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protections for sex discrimination extend to LGBT workers, a rebuke to the Trump administration’s stance that existing civil rights laws didn’t protect them. The Education Department under Trump has taken the stance that protections for transgender students aren’t covered under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.
The idea that transgender students should be able to participate in the sport that aligns with their identity has been a flashpoint among those opposed to equal rights for LGBT individuals.
In a dissent of the Title VII ruling, Justice Samuel Alito warned of the majority opinion’s transgender rights fallout for athletes. Applying the Title VII opinion to Title IX would “undermine one of the law’s major achievements, giving young women an equal opportunity to participate in sports,” he said.
Jennifer Braceras, director of the Independent Women’s Law Center, called the court’s ruling “a terrible day for women’s sports.”
The Women’s Law Center has opposed competition by transgender athletes in women’s sports. Braceras argued that the decision could lead to men seeking to participate in women’s sports like field hockey as well.
“These issues should be hashed out by legislatures and not by the courts,” Braceras said. “When the courts make these bold pronouncements and essentially change the meaning of a law that’s been on the books for a very long time, there’s no nuance.”
In Connecticut, a group of high school female athletes challenged a school policy in federal court that allows transgender women to participate in school sports, citing an unfair advantage. The Trump administration and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights have weighed in on the dispute, urging the court to interpret Title IX as giving female athletes equal footing with males.
The ACLU has asked to intervene in the case. Similar to arguments about the workplace, advocates say these arguments dismiss a transgender person’s rights to live by their gender identity and not their biological sex at birth.
Paul Castillo, an attorney with Lambda Legal, said the Supreme Court’s ruling affirms that Title IX requires schools to protect the rights of transgender athletes in all activities, including sports.
“Even though the Department of Education had rescinded its guidance with respect to transgender students, it could not erase the statute itself,” he said.