U.S. Department of Education extends Title IX protections to gay and transgender students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced Wednesday that it would extend Title IX protections to gay and transgender students. 

“Today, the Department makes clear that all students—including LGBTQ+ students—deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools. 

In a landmark decision last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was unconstitutional. The DOE said their new interpretation of Title IX stems from this case. 

“What this means for students is that we can align to protecting students of all gender identities within schools,” Rebby Kern, director of education policy at Equality NC said. 

The DOE’s move overturns Trump-era interpretations of Title IX. In May of last year, the Trump Administration said that Title IX protections did not extend to transgender students, and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that allowed transgender athletes to participate in school sports. 

The news comes after North Carolina dealt with its own flurry of anti-transgender laws in recent months. 

In March, a group of N.C. Republicans sponsored the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” a bill aimed at ensuring that only biologically female students could participate in women’s sports — excluding transgender athletes. 

Two more bills were introduced the following month, seeking to ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender individuals under 21 and allowing healthcare providers to refuse any treatment that violated their conscience. 

Rebby Kern, director of education policy at Equality NC

Kern said that the DOE’s new interpretation of Title IX would protect trans students from bills like the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” but wider federal legislation is needed to combat bills that seek to restrict healthcare. 

None of these bills made it to the Governor’s desk — but they echoed another piece of anti-trans legislation in North Carolina’s recent history. 

HB2, also known as “the bathroom bill” was signed into law in 2016. It overturned an ordinance in Charlotte that sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and forbade any local governments to pass similar laws. It also prohibited transgender individuals from using public restrooms that corresponded with their gender. 

HB2 was repealed a year later, after the state had already lost the NCAA Championship and over $3 billion in business because of it. To pass the repeal, lawmakers reached a compromise that put a three year moratorium on any local governments passing anti-discrimination ordinances. 

A month after the moratorium lifted in 2019, local governments across the state began to adopt LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill were the first this past January, with more towns beginning to follow. 

Kern said there is much work left to be done to protect LGBTQ Americans, but the DOE’s move is a significant step in the right direction. 

“Having a clear Title IX statement that says gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the way that we interpret discrimination can help hold the door open for academic achievement for all children in schools,” they said. 

Gov. Cooper says the $5.7 billion in federal rescue money can bring “transformational change” to NC

Governor Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper’s ideas for spending the $5.7 billion coming to the state from the latest federal recovery package range from offering another round of direct payments to parents to improving local water and sewer systems.

Cooper presented his proposals for widespread investments to  – among other goals –  help individuals and businesses, expand high-speed internet access, improve rural downtowns, and pay for scholarships for community college and university students.

“This pandemic brought us a once in a generation challenge, and these funds a once in a generation opportunity,” Cooper said.  “Let’s use them to make transformational change for our state. We can revolutionize North Carolina.”

Cooper proposes using some of the money to continue a modified version of a program of direct grants to parents that legislative Republicans started last year.

The “extra credit grants” would go to low- and middle-income families based on their 2019 incomes, and would cost $250 million. Families would get $250 or $500, depending on their income, with people who make less money getting the bigger grant. The maximum eligible income would be set at $60,000.

Cooper said the pandemic levied the most harm to people with lower incomes. “We need to try to get the money to families who need it the most,” he said.

The state budget office estimated that 320,000 families would receive $500 and 340,000 families would get $250.

Cooper would use some of the money to continue efforts to expand high-speed internet by spending $1.2 billion on broadband access and affordability. High-speed internet became a necessity in the pandemic when students had to learn from home and medical offices pivoted to telehealth.

The spending will ensure “every home with a school-aged child will have access to high-speed internet,” Cooper said.

Other proposals include:

  • $835 million for community college and university scholarships and grants. The NC Guarantee Scholarship would offer at least $6,000 to UNC and state community college students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year. The scholarships would phase out as family income increases to $75,000.
  • $575 million for affordable housing.
  • $175 million for rural downtown transformation grants.
  • $350 million in grants to small hospitality and related businesses, including $50 million targeted to small business owners who closed or partially closed their businesses in the pandemic to help them reopen in the existing locations.
  • $800 million to fix water and sewer systems. Aging pipes in North Carolina are driving up user bills, straining local utility budgets, and contributing to water pollution. $440 million would be use for water, sewer, and stormwater projects for distressed and at-risk water and wastewater units and $360 million would be available for all units statewide, according to the supporting budget document.

Bill to exclude transgender women from sports dead this legislative session

A bill to exclude transgender women from women’s sports won’t move forward this legislative session, according to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

The bill simply isn’t needed as there has been no verifiable problem with transgender women playing sports in North Carolina, Moore told the Associated Press Thursday.

“The House will not be taking up that bill,” Moore told The Associated Press. “We’ve spoken with the bill sponsors and others and simply believe that there’s not a need to take it up at this time.”

The announcement follows word last week from the office of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) that a bill to bar gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth would not move forward as it did not have the votes to overcome a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Both bills faced pressure from state and national sports organizations, including the NCAA, which has itself been feeling pressure to pull tournaments from states that have already passed such bills. States that have passed such bills have already seen legal challenges.

Moore denied to the AP that the announcement of Apple’s new East Coast campus coming to the state, and bringing 3,000 jobs, was related. But Gov. Roy Cooper said the company told him the partial repeal of HB2, which excluded LGBTQ people from non-discrimination laws, helped with the company’d decision.

On Thursday Moore told the News & Observer that the the legislature shouldn’t go looking for volatile social issues to get into.

“We had no examples of where this is really a problem and I’m a believer that you shouldn’t pass legislation unless there’s a problem you’re trying to address,” Moore told the paper. “I mean, obviously, these things can spin up and get really controversial and all of that so you know before you go down that road, there needs to be, I would say, an articulated problem.”

Buncombe County passes first LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in Western NC

The Buncombe County Commission unanimously passed a LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance Tuesday night, becoming the 7th local government to do so since a statewide moratorium on such protections was lifted late last year.

Similar ordinances have passed in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, and Hillsborough, as well as Orange County.

“As a lifelong Buncombe County resident, I could not be more proud of my local government for doing the right thing by ensuring that all people – including LGBTQ people – are protected from discrimination,” said Allison Scott, director of Impact & Innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality.

“This ordinance is a big step toward elevating the values we share in Western North Carolina,” Scott said. “Taking pride in our work, caring for our neighbors, giving back to our communities, and treating everyone the way that we want to be treated – with dignity, compassion, and respect. LGBTQ folks in our county, especially the many transgender young people who have been hurting this year, will feel safer, more welcome, and more included because of the Commission’s vote.”

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said it was particularly heartening to see the ordinance pass in Western North Carolina at a time when transgender youth are being targeted by bills in North Carolina and across the nation.

“With this western county affirming the right to nondiscrimination for our most vulnerable community members, Buncombe has demonstrated that this truly is a statewide movement for our communities,” Johnson said. “We hope that elected officials across our state see the targets on our backs and hear these calls to action – we need these protections in every city, town, and county across North Carolina.”

The Public Religion Research Institute’s polling for its 2019 American Values Atlas found 67 percent of North Carolinians polled support protections against LGBTQ discrimination in the state.

 

Transgender treatment ban won’t see a vote in NC Senate

A controversial bill that would prohibit treatment for transgender people under 21 will not come to a vote, according to a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).

Charlotte radio station WFAE first reported the story Tuesday.

“We do not see a pathway to Senate Bill 514 becoming law,” said Berger spokesman Pat Ryan, according to the station.

Gov. Roy Cooper would almost certainly have vetoed the bill, and Republicans no longer have the numbers in the General Assembly to overturn his veto without Democratic support. Given how extreme the bill is — going farther in targeting transgender youth than other, similar bills filed across the country so far this year — that support was unlikely.

The bill would also require state employees, including teachers and counselors, to inform parents in writing if they have knowledge of a minor who exhibits “gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex.”

Gender non-conformity can include anything from young men who paint their nails and young women who prefer to dress in clothes traditionally considered masculine to non-binary and gender-fluid people who do not identify strongly as male or female. The bill would require those children’s teachers and counselors to report them to their parents if they “exhibit symptoms” of gender non-conformity, even if they do not consider themselves transgender.

The bill also seeks to legally protect so-called  “conversion therapy,”  a scientifically discredited practice  that attempts to “cure” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The practice, which research has repeatedly found causes depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, has been banned in 20 states. In 2019 Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer money to be used to pay for its use on minors in North Carolina. Polling shows overwhelming support for banning the practice in North Carolina, but multiple bills to do so have gone without a hearing or a vote.

Taken together, these provisions of the bill establish a legal mandate to identify and report children who may be transgender, prevent their parents and doctors from making medical decisions about their care and legally protect methods of “curing” them that have been established to be harmful.

Bills targeting transgender youth have proliferated across the country this legislative session, filed by Republicans who have been frank about transgender legislation providing a wedge issue that may help them in the midterm congressional elections. But it has also divided Republicans in some states. In Arkansas, where a bill similar to SB 514 was passed, the legislature had to override the veto of that state’s Republican governor, who called it “government overreach.”

Two other North Carolina bills targeting trans youth could still see a vote.

Senate Bill 515, would allow any medical provider  to refuse to perform any form of care or service “on the basis of conscience, whether such conscience is informed by religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs or principles.” That would including providing referrals to others who may provide the care or service. LGBTQ advocates call it a “license to discriminate” against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people among, among others, for religious reasons.

House Bill 358 would bar transgender women from competing against other women in sports at schools and universities in North Carolina.

That bill saw a public hearing last week with passionate voices from both sides, but has not actually come to vote in a House committee. Some Democrats have said they are undecided on the bill, however, or have so far remained silent on it. That’s given the bill’s Republican sponsors hope that it could still move forward.