Biden finalises sweeping, vital new Title IX rules protecting LGBTQ+ students from discrimination

President Joe Biden speaking into a microphone, with a picture of a rainbow flag behind him.

The Biden administration finalised sweeping new Title IX anti-discrimination rules on Friday (19 April), to protect people in public schools from sex-based discrimination and harassment.

The new Title IX rules – first proposed in 2022 – mean that the rights of LGBTQ+ students will be protected by federal law, and in addition, victims of campus sexual assault will gain new safeguards.

During a call with reporters, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said: “These regulations make it crystal clear that no one should have to abandon their educational aspirations due to discrimination, whether it’s based on pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other sex-based factors.”

The finalised rules provide explicit protections for LGBTQ+ students and expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, there is no mention of transgender athletes, who are facing increasingly vitriolic attacks on their right to participate in school sports, with Republicans rallying around bans on transgender athletes in girls’ sports.

The administration originally planned to include a new policy forbidding schools from enacting outright bans on transgender athletes, but that provision was put on hold, reports AP, who explain that most view the delay as a “political manoeuvre”, aimed at side-stepping the “trans athlete issue” for now.

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During the press call, The Advocate specifically asked about protections for transgender students. A senior administration official replied: “The new rule puts in the regulation itself that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation violates Title IX.

“And if, in an investigation, we determine that a student is harassed based on gender identity and subject to a hostile environment that meets the standard in these new regulations, then we would be able to find a violation, and we would be able to ensure that the school comes into compliance under Title IX.”

What is Title IX?

The April 2024 change to Title IX will help LGBTQ+ youth. (Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Title IX is a landmark civil rights law in the US. It was enacted as a follow-up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

It covers a wide range of issues, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender-based discrimination. 

Under Obama, the Department of Education-issued guidance explained that transgender students would be protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX.

However, the Trump administration rolled back several of these policies, with the guidance on gender identity being withdrawn in February 2017 by the then Education secretary Betsy DeVos, who also narrowed the definitions of sexual harassment.

This was followed by the Education Department ruling, a year later, that Title IX did not allow trans students to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender.

Now, in April 2024, the regulations have officially added “gender identity” onto the list of protections from sex-based discrimination for the first time. LGBTQ+ students who face discrimination will now be entitled to a response from their school, and those failed by their schools can appeal to the federal government.

The update also enhances protections for students and employees: “based on pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, lactation, related medical conditions, or recovery from these conditions.”

“For more than 50 years, Title IX has promised an equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our nation’s schools free from sex discrimination,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, in reference to the update. “These final regulations build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights.”

The finalised regulations will come into effect on 1 August 2024.