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Department of Education’s draft Title IX rule draws mixed reactions

Public comment period to come

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U.S. Department of Education headquarters in D.C. (Photo courtesy of GSA/U.S. Department of Education)

The U.S. Department of Education has drawn mixed reactions over its issuance on Thursday of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a draft regulation governing the eligibility frameworks for transgender athletes who compete on school sports teams.

According to an agency fact sheet, the proposal would affirm “that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students” from participating on teams that align with their gender identity.

However, if the policy is adopted as written, schools may implement criteria that — in some circumstances and when certain conditions are met — may be used to prohibit these student athletes from competing.

“At this time, the department is only issuing a proposed rule, which does not require changes in policies or practices by recipients of federal funding,” an agency spokesperson told the Washington Blade in an emailed statement.

“We look forward to comments from states and others during the public comment period,” the spokesperson said, adding, “Title IX is the law of the land, and all federally funded education programs and activities must comply with Title IX and the department’s regulations implementing Title IX.”

Public comments on the draft proposal will be solicited for 30 days beginning when the document is published in the Federal Register, and interested parties are urged to provide input via the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

Under the proposed policy, schools could lawfully limit the participation of trans athletes “in some instances, particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments,” including for purposes of “ensuring fairness in competition or preventing sports-related injury.”

However, such eligibility criteria must “minimize harms to students whose opportunity to participate on a male or female team consistent with their gender identity would be limited or denied” while considering “differences in grade and education level, level of competition, and sports.”

The fact sheet indicates that “the proposed regulation supports Title IX’s nondiscrimination requirement, while providing flexibility for schools to achieve important educational objectives through their athletic program.”

For purposes of limiting or denying eligibility, schools may include criteria such as “a sex marker or an identification document, such as a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license,” as well as other means of collecting this information like “physical examinations or medical testing or treatment related to a student’s sex characteristics.” 

Proposal earns criticism and support from Democrats and trans stakeholders

“The National Center for Transgender Equality applauds the Department of Education for acknowledging in this proposed rule that categorical bans on participation in school sports based on transgender status are inappropriate, unlawful and fundamentally un-American,” the group’s president, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, said in a statement Friday.

“While there is still more to be accomplished surrounding this proposal, we appreciate the robust action of the Department of Education,” Heng-Lehtinen said, adding, “NCTE looks forward to submitting public comments, as well as working alongside the administration to further remove these inappropriate barriers, allowing for equal participation by transgender youth.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, issued a similar statement on Thursday in which he and the caucus pledged to “continue to further analyze this rule and what restrictions may or may not be permitted.”

“We will be providing our feedback to the Department of Education to ensure trans students are afforded their full civil rights protections under Title IX,” Pocan said.

GOP lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) — who introduced a federal ban that would prohibit all trans women and girls from participating in sports teams consistent with their gender identity — denounced the proposal as an attempt to “erase women’s sports.”

Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, tweeted praise for the Department’s move, writing: “As a transgender lawyer who has represented many transgender athletes over the past 20 years, I appreciate this proposed rule, which will be a huge help in challenging state bans that are devastating for trans kids.”

Minter also re-tweeted an article by Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who wrote, “It is clearly designed to survive a legal challenge by locating a middle ground that grants protections to transgender students that are strong but not absolute.”

Stern’s piece called the rule “certainly a huge improvement from the Department of Education’s bigoted position under former President Donald Trump,” adding that “LGBTQ advocates expect much more of Biden, and any apprehension about the rule’s less-than-complete support for equality is understandable.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed the draft rule on Twitter, urging the Biden administration to “walk this back.”

Some trans activists, including legislative researcher Erin Reed, also spoke out against the proposed rule, arguing it would provide pathways for schools to implement discriminatory policies while incentivizing intrusive gender policing of female student athletes.

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Congress

Garcia slams effort to ban drag shows as GOP passes NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

Equality Caucus denounces anti-LGBTQ amendments

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”
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Congress

Merkley, joined by Advocates for Trans Equality, makes Equality Act push

Ore. senator said ‘our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year’

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Biden-Harris campaign debuts ads targeting LGBTQ voters

Ads to begin running Tuesday

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Pride month ad (Photo courtesy of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign)

The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month ahead of November’s election.

“These ads will be featured across national and battleground LGBTQ+ media outlets, and will run throughout the month,” the campaign explained in a press release.

The aim is to “uplift” Biden’s record as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history” while also highlighting “Donald Trump’s history of attacking their rights and his plans to go further.”

One ad that was previewed exclusively by the Washington Blade reads, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are fighting for the LGBTQ community!” with a photo of the president and vice president.

Another, formatted for social media, features a photo of Pride flags atop a quote from the “PBS NewsHour”: “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been outlining what he plans to do if elected in November. That includes rolling back the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people. It’s part of a wider playbook to undo many civil rights advances for minority groups.”

“This Pride is an important time to remember the progress we’ve made for our community under President Biden, and the stakes of this election for LGBTQ+ Americans as Trump proudly runs to strip us of our rights,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson Kevin Munoz, who is gay.

“From threatening IVF treatments to threatening LGBTQ+ marriages, Trump’s Project 2025 agenda would rip away our rights, and sow needless hate and division for Trump’s political gain,” he said. “LGBTQ+ Americans deserve to hear from us about these stakes, and this buy shows we will continue to show up and make our case to them in this election.”

The ad blitz on Tuesday comes after the campaign’s announcement of a paid media and organizing push for Pride month, which includes sizable investments in courting LGBTQ voters in battleground states.

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