On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said there’s no argument: The Trump administration is ready to revoke a guidance that protects transgender students from discrimination in public schools.
Spicer was disputing a New York Times report that there’s been debate within the administration about whether the guidance should be revoked. His explanation:
The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government. So while we have further guidance coming out on this, I think that all you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time, that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in, that this is a states’ rights issue.
A few months before President Donald Trump was elected, the Obama administration sent out a legally nonbinding guidance to federally funded schools arguing that trans students are protected by existing federal civil rights law. So, that administration said, schools should respect trans students’ rights, including their right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.
The Obama administration cited Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in public schools. It argued that anti-trans discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, because discrimination against trans people is rooted in stereotypes and prejudices of what people should be like based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
Trump initially said he didn’t care what bathrooms trans people use, saying he would let Caitlyn Jenner use the bathroom for her gender identity in Trump businesses. But he later said that the Obama-era guidance, even though it was not legally binding, was an example of federal overreach — and he vowed to undo it if elected. A federal court had already placed an injunction on the guidance last year, but the Trump administration’s moves will seal its demise.
Conservatives, including those in the Trump administration, see the trans-inclusive view as a misinterpretation of federal laws. They argue that the authors of civil rights laws, which go back to the 1960s and ’70s, never intended to include trans people in sex discrimination bans, so trans people shouldn’t be protected under the statutes.
As Spicer mentioned, Trump has also said that this issue should be left to the states, which would effectively let conservative states continue to allow discrimination against trans kids in schools.
Trump’s decision apparently caused some infighting within the administration, according to the New York Times. Since the guidance dealt with schools, it required a sign-off from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was apparently uncomfortable leaving trans students unprotected. DeVos’s pushback caused her to clash with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom have long wanted the guidance revoked. Faced with the decision to disobey the president or resign, DeVos ultimately played along, according to the report.
Spicer claimed there is actually no conflict within the administration. “Where you might be hearing something is more on the timing and the wording of stuff,” he said. “The conclusions, everybody in the administration is agreed upon.”
He also said the official letter to rescind the Obama-era guidance should come on Wednesday.
For more on the debate about trans people and bathrooms, read Vox’s explainer.