Somewhere in America today — in many places, we are sure — a transgender child’s difficult life just got more difficult still.
The Trump administration’s decision Wednesday to rescind federal protections for transgender students marks a significant setback for civil rights, and a victory for the same forces of oppression that historically have denied equal rights to African Americans, women and gay people.
This is what happens when a president with a weak moral compass outsources to others, as a matter of political expediency, the job of doing what’s right. A reactionary such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not about to do what’s right.
The tragedy of the Trump administration’s decision is compounded by growing proof, including in the Chicago area, that this entire controversy over whether and how to accommodate transgender students is much ado about nothing. With a little effort and a lot of common sense, we have seen, any school can reasonably respect every student’s rights, including the right to privacy.
Chicago Public Schools established a policy last year, even before the Obama administration issued a directive on the matter, that transgender students could use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. Chaos did not ensue. School District U-46, centered in suburban Elgin, established a similar policy — and things have worked out fine.
And neither CPS nor District U-46 has any intention of reversing course now.
Even Barrington Community Unit School District 220, forced by the feds last year to make restroom and locker room accommodations for a transgender girl, says it won’t dump those procedures now, despite the Trump administration’s decision.
Every expansion of civil rights comes only with hard work, and sometimes only in hindsight is the complete rightness of a cause obvious. We are blind to our prejudices until we finally see them, and then we wonder how we failed to see them all along. Nothing else explains laws that denied women the right to vote, that denied black children the right to sit next to white children in Southern schools, that denied consenting adults the right to love and marry whomever they choose.
In every case, the defense of the status quo has been the same: These are matters best left to the states to decide, or even to individual towns or schools. But our civil rights transcend the powers of state legislatures or school boards; they are guaranteed by the Constitution. Gov. George Wallace could stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1963, but the Bill of Rights said an African-American student, Vivian Malone Jones, had every right to walk through that door — and she and others did.
When President Barack Obama in May of last year sent a letter to every public school in America advising them that transgender students have certain protected rights under federal law, he made it easier for schools to do the right thing. They could point to federal law to avoid local fights over the issue.
Now, in rescinding the Obama directive, the Trump administration has made it oh so easy again for schools to buckle under to the forces of intolerance.
Looking particularly pathetic is Trump’s new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, who failed her first test of character. She reportedly opposed stripping transgender students of specific protections, but agreed to go along with Sessions and Trump in return for language that said bullying, discrimination and harassment would not be tolerated.
Perhaps only in the Trump administration would the inclusion of an expression of basic decency — transgender kids should not be picked on — be considered a victory.
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