This year marks the 45th anniversary of Title IX, the law that expanded educational opportunities for America’s women. It was co-authored by Hawai‘i’s late Congresswoman Patsy Mink and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972.
The law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In short, Title IX prohibits educational institutions and programs from discriminating against students or employees based on their sex. In practice, the law has helped level the playing field in many areas of education from admissions and financial aid to athletics. It has also helped eliminate educational barriers through sexual assault prevention programs and by requiring schools to have established procedures for handling complaints of sexual discrimination, harassment or violence.
Since Title IX, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women pursuing higher education and completing college degrees. The National Center For Education Statistics found that the percentage of professional degrees earned by women rose dramatically between 1960 and 1993: from 2 percent to 42 percent of all law degrees; from 6 percent to 38 percent of all medical degrees; and from 1 percent to 34 percent of all dentistry degrees. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education, women make up 55 percent of undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges in the United States as of fall 2014 and are 57 percent of students graduating with college degrees.
Another impact by Title IX has been the involvement of women in sports. Today, there are 150,000 college women playing sports, compared to 30,000 in 1972.
In April 2014, the U.S. Department of Education formally made its position clear that Title IX also applied to and protected transgender students.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon stated in a U.S. Department of Education press release that month: “Our federal civil rights laws demand that all students—women and men; gay and straight; transgender or not; citizens and foreign students—be allowed to learn and participate in all parts of college life without sexual assault and harassment limiting their opportunities.”
Later that year, the department issued a 36-page memo reminding schools that they must adhere to treating transgender students in ways consistent with their gender identity.
However, this February, President Trump decided to withdraw support that protects the rights of transgender students to access bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.
The White House issued the following statement in February: “As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level. The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”
Many were disappointed with Trump’s position. According to a CNN story, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was closely involved in the decision and had reminded Trump that they had made a promise to protect all students.
The same CNN story included the following statement by Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, a legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS: “Trump’s actions do not change the law itself–transgender students remain protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972–but abandoning the guidance intentionally creates confusion about what federal law requires. The law bars discrimination–the new administration invites it.”
“These young people already face incredible hurdles in their pursuit of education and acceptance,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “With a pen stroke, the Trump administration effectively sanctions the bullying, ostracizing and isolation of these children, putting their very lives in danger.”
Ultimately, whether and how transgender students are protected under Title IX may be decided by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear its first case regarding a transgender student. Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender student from Virginia, is fighting for the right to be able to use the boy’s bathroom because that is the gender he identifies with. The case was set for March 28.
by Itzel Contreras Mendez, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter