The Trump administration’s Department of Justice and Department of Education released a joint “Dear Colleague” letter last week instructing K-12 schools, colleges, and universities across the country to disregard Title IX guidance given by the previous Obama administration. The previous guidance, which was released May 2016, directed public schools which receive federal funding to permit transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity under the federal Title IX statute.
Interpretation of this specific aspect of Title IX is now left up to individual states to determine rather than at the federal level. Despite this shift in the interpretation, Penn State and President Barron released a statement Wednesday afternoon reaffirming support and protections for transgender students.
“We feel it’s important to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that all students, faculty and staff, including transgender individuals, are able to enjoy full and equal access to the Penn State community, and to helping build a safe and welcoming environment for everyone at the University,” President Barron said. “The University remains dedicated to promoting and protecting gender equality.”
Pennsylvania Department of Education Deputy Communications Director Casey Smith said the department will continue to provide assistance to support local education agencies and a Bias and Discrimination Prevention Planning Toolkit will be shared widely in the coming weeks.
“The Department is reviewing the guidance and is working closely with the Wolf Administration to ensure the protection of all students in schools across the commonwealth, no matter their race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” Smith said. “Governor Wolf is committed to ensuring Pennsylvania remains a place where everyone feels welcome, and those protections must extend to our classrooms and schools.”
“Many in our community have expressed concern about the possible consequences of these new federal actions,” Chair of the Commission on LGBTQ Equity Borja Gutiérrez said. “It is reassuring to know the university’s position has not changed.” In November 2016, Penn State announced it would re-label 57 single-user bathrooms at University Park as “all-gender” bathrooms. By the end of 2017, it additionally committed to re-labelling over 400 single-user bathrooms across the Commonwealth Campuses.