In the days since the Biden administration announced plans to expand Title IX’s federal protection to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time, local advocates and allies of the Bay Area’s young LGBTQ+ community are preparing to push for even more.
“Oh my god. I’m so excited Betsy Devos’ stupid policies will be removed!” said Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center in San Jose, when they heard the news on June 23. Antolovich was referring to the former U.S. education secretary who acted to limit the reach of anti-discrimination rules.
The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations would amend Title IX, a sweeping federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools or educational programs that receive federal money. When it was written in 1972, it was intended to prevent discrimination against women and girls, but the new regulations would prohibit all forms of sex discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, sex stereotypes and pregnancy in federally-funded schools.
Emma Grasso-Levine, Oakland-based manager of the national group Advocate for Youth’s Know Your IX, said the rule revisions make it clear that transgender and nonbinary students “can’t be singled out from school-related facilities, or excluded for who they are.” But she’s disappointed to see the proposal fails to address protections for trans student-athletes or religious exemptions.
“Title IX’s potential has yet to be fully realized,” Grasso-Levine said. “Biden’s proposed regulations are a step toward fulfilling its potential, but at the same time we’re seeing student survivors, including LGBTQ survivors, who report experiencing violence and discrimination being pushed out of schools,” she said.
The new proposal does not include language on the criteria for transgender and nonbinary student eligibility to participate in gender-specific sports teams. Instead, the Department of Education will tackle that under separate rules for athletics under Title IX, the proposal reads.
Conservatives and Republican lawmakers, many of whom praised Trump-era rule changes to Title IX that strengthened protections for people accused of sexual violence or discrimination, have largely contested the Biden proposal, which instead strengthens protections for the alleged victims.
Those opponents also reacted with concern and anger over what they consider an erosion of rights of women and girls in the wake of potential transgender and nonbinary students’ participation in gender-specific sports teams.
Bob Nunez, president of the Silicon Valley branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, said he believes the concern about sports participation is “not a real reason.”
“I don’t know of anyone that would use that reason to get ahead in sports,” Nunez said. “Who you are is who you should be allowed to participate as – as it would be in any educational endeavor or job opportunity. To say one could get a trophy easier makes no sense to me.”
On the day the Biden administration proposal was announced, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the department sought to align Title IX regulations with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, “which held that it’s impossible to discriminate against a person” because of their sexual orientation or gender identity “without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
“Together, we must seize this opportunity to better protect LGBTQ youth who face bullying and harassment, experience higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, and too often grow up feeling they don’t belong,” he said.
Antolovich said even though people in Santa Clara County feel safer because most local and state elected officials are supportive of LGBTQ rights, the added protection of the federal government, especially for nonbinary and transgender kids, is monumental.
“When we go out into the world, into the supermarket or wherever, the people are not always supportive. We have to remember that hate has been emboldened everywhere in America,” Antolovich said.
The proposed rules are not final, and stakeholders will be able to weigh in for 60 days before the education department begins the process of finalizing the regulations.
Advocates from Know Your IX, the national survivor and youth-led project empowering students to advocate an end to sexual violence and gender discrimination in their schools, plan to hold listening sessions and draft a collective comment signed by students.
Aarnav Verma, a student at Monte Vista High School in Danville, said many LGBTQ+ students, including his friends, don’t feel like they’re a part of their community and to him, the proposal “shows legislators are trying and making an effort to include them more.”
“It’s really important because it’s not so much a problem in my community because California is a liberal state,” Verma said. “But nationwide there’s discrimination and sexual abuse that goes underreported or not investigated. I think the Biden administration’s proposals really do help in bringing justice.”
Complete protection under Title IX for the Bay Area’s LGBTQ+ community could be a long time coming. But federal recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity is a step in the right direction, say advocates who work with local young people.
“Anytime we can have our identity named and addressed in law means that we’re protected,” said Krista Glaser, a board member on the Danville and San Ramon Valley Chapter of PFLAG, a national organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families. “So many states are not protected. It’s great to have any kind of federal protection.”