Lankford wants new Education Secretary to gut transgender guidance

Senator James Lankford (R-OK) is urging Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos to gut guidance on transgender students. AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki, File.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

It’s no secret that Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford doesn’t like the guidance provided to the nation’s schools on how to deal with transgender students. As soon as the departments of Education and Justice sent out their letter in May, clarifying that transgender students have the right to be free from discrimination in schools, including the ability to use gender-separated facilities (such as restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity, Lankford was on it.

His press release at the time said, “Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today challenged the Department of Education’s legal justification for its May 13 guidance directive to local school districts regarding the use of public school bathrooms. Lankford contends the directive is part of a long pattern of attempts to create new mandates and requirements without the normal, transparent rule-making or legislative process.

Now, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that Lankford has had several conversations with Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education. He wants her to gut critical protections for young LGBTQ people.

Politico reported, “DeVos has been talking to at least one Republican senator about reining in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, according to an aide for the lawmaker. Trump’s pick to lead the department had several phone conversations with Republican Sen. James Lankford, who has long accused the department's civil rights arm of federal overreach.

“Civil rights advocates worry the Trump administration will move to gut the office or greatly diminish its enforcement role. Lankford doesn’t want to eliminate the Office for Civil Rights, the aide said. But Lankford stressed to DeVos that there are areas he sees as federal overreach — like directives on bullying and harassment that he says aren’t rooted statutory or regulatory text and can create uncertainty for schools. Lankford has said OCR needs to rein in its regulatory abuses.”

Lankford described his approach in the May press release: “The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) allows agencies to produce guidance documents to clarify issues in an existing regulation or law. While the majority of guidance directives are used appropriately to provide regulated entities with timely information and necessary clarification, agencies, like the Department of Education, have improperly issued letters and other types of instructions to compel entities to comply with their suggestions and recommendations, rather than pursuing any changes through the regulatory or legislative process.

“Through a letter to the Department, Lankford asked them to explain their legal justification for expanding ‘sex’ under Title IX to include ‘gender identity.’ Among other questions, Lankford also asked if schools are prohibited from taking into account the privacy rights of all students in service of adherence to the discrimination policies set forth by the Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

Under President Obama, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), and the Departments of Justice and Education, have all agreed that “sex” as it applies to discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Several courts have agreed with the departments and EEOC, and here are court cases moving through the system to determine resolution.

Copyright 2017 The Gayly – January 6, 2017 @ 5:05 p.m.