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US Department of Education confirms Title IX protections apply to LGBTQ+ community

(Katelyn Dang/Daily Bruin Illustrations director)

By Megan Tagami

June 28, 2021 12:24 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Education’s decision to extend Title IX protections to LGBTQ+ individuals may help limit discrimination against these students on college campuses, UCLA faculty said.

The DOE announced June 16 that Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination will include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The decision is consistent with the 2020 Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court ruled that prohibitions against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also protect gay and transgender workers. In its June 16 statement, DOE said the court’s understanding of Title VII influences interpretations of Title IX.

The UCLA Title IX Office said in an emailed statement that the Department of Education’s decision will have no impact on campus policy because LGBTQ+ students already received Title IX protections at UCLA prior to the announcement.

Although the Department of Education’s decision will not affect Title IX policies at UCLA, it will still strengthen protections for LGBTQ+ students across the United States, said Christy Mallory, legal director of UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.

The DOE announcement came amid a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation throughout the United States. According to the Human Rights Campaign, state legislators have introduced over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2021.

Under Donald Trump’s administration, LGBTQ+ students only received a patchwork of protections that varied by state, Mallory said. With new federal regulations, students may feel safer attending colleges in states with weak LGBTQ+ protections because they can still access legal remedies under Title IX, she added.

Before DOE’s announcement, LGBTQ+ individuals still had a private right of action to file complaints of discrimination in courts under Title IX, according to the Congressional Research Service. However, DOE did not previously accept and enforce reports from students who experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, Mallory said.

Mallory said DOE’s new interpretation of Title IX provides a second pathway for LGBTQ+ students to file complaints of sex discrimination.

“This is a clear statement that the protections are there, you don’t have to go through that complicated sort of path,” Mallory said.

According to the UCLA Title IX office review for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 8% of Title IX allegations at UCLA consisted of gender discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Andy Cofino, director of the UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center, said the Department of Education’s decision may encourage more LGBTQ+ students to file Title IX claims.

Although LGBTQ+ individuals currently receive Title IX protections at UCLA, Cofino said he is unsure of how many students know about the statute and their abilities to report instances of sex discrimination.

“Because this is going so public and so many people are hearing about it,” Cofino said, “I do think that there’s a possibility that it will encourage more folks to report because they’ll know about (Title IX) as an option.”

Jody Herman, a public policy scholar at the Williams Institute, said the Barack Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX also included discrimination based on gender identity, but Donald Trump’s administration reversed these guidelines in 2017.

Herman added the current administration’s interpretation now has the additional support of the Supreme Court ruling and would be harder for future administrations to overturn.

“I think that it would be a heavier lift for a future administration to say that Title IX sex discrimination does not include gender identity or sexual orientation,” Herman said.

The DOE will likely use the interpretation to address issues such as students’ abilities to participate in sports or use locker rooms consistent with their gender identities, Mallory said.

“I think this was just a preliminary step, and we’ll see those regulations come out of the Department soon,” Mallory said.

Cofino said he thinks the Department of Education’s decision will come as a relief to LGBTQ+ students and other campus members.

“This really signals to our community that … LGBTQ+ folks are welcomed, affirmed, valued and will be protected by the highest level of the law,” Cofino said.

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