The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, published two letters on Aug. 31 that outline how the department will address complaints of discrimination against LGBTQ students with respect to the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling that extended antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQ workers. Student complaints of discrimination based on LGBTQ status are under the jurisdiction of the department, Kimberly Richey, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in one of the letters.
Both letters evaluate how the ruling extends to OCR’s enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded institutions. Because of the ruling, OCR will be investigating a discrimination complaint made in June by a Tennessee high school student, who said she was denied educational opportunities due to her being homosexual, Richey wrote.
The department’s understanding of the ruling and how it relates to Title IX is “that discriminating against a person based on their homosexuality or identification as transgender generally involves discrimination on the basis of their biological sex,” therefore OCR “possesses jurisdiction over your complaint,” Richey wrote to the student.
The second letter updates a case addressed by the department in May, which found that female high school track athletes in Connecticut were not given an equal opportunity to compete when transgender female students, who are biologically male, were permitted to run against them. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Richey maintained that federal regulations permit schools to have separate-sex athletics based on biological differences. This separation does not discriminate against transgender students under Title IX and the Connecticut schools remain out of compliance with the law for their policy allowing transgender girls to compete with cisgender girls, Richey wrote.
“Such separate-sex teams have long ensured that female student athletes are afforded an equal opportunity to participate,” she wrote. “Distinctions based on the two sexes in such circumstances are permissible because the sexes are not similarly situated.”
Legal scholars and members of the Supreme Court anticipated the court’s June decision would have an impact on how judges and Education Department officials interpret Title IX. Richey wrote that the letter regarding transgender athletes “constitutes a formal statement of OCR’s interpretation of Title IX and its implementing regulations and should be relied upon, cited, and construed as such.” The letters determine how OCR will approach similar complaints from LGBTQ college students in the future.