Biden Administration Big Move: Broadens Title IX Protections to Include LGBTQ Students and Assault Survivors

The Biden administration issued rules Friday that safeguard LGBTQ students’ rights and alter the way schools respond to claims of sexual assault and misbehavior. It’s a long-awaited response to President Biden’s campaign promises to roll back Trump-era rules that he claimed were silencing survivors.

The Education Department’s changes to Title IX, the 1972 legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in federally financed educational programs, are set to take effect August 1.

The new regulations eliminate the requirement for in-person, court-like processes for sexual assault charges, including cross-examination of accused victims. This reverses Trump administration safeguards for accused students, which victims’ advocates said retraumatized survivors and discouraged reporting. Schools can now interrogate witnesses in live hearings or separate gatherings. If a school decides to hold a live hearing, claimed victims have the option to attend remotely.

The Biden administration also extended the definition of sexual harassment, perhaps making more cases serious enough to warrant a school investigation. This reverses Trump-era standards that limited harassment to what is “objectively offensive.”

“Our educational institutions should be places where differences are not merely accepted, but celebrated. “Places that root out hate and promote inclusion, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our systems and institutions benefit from it,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told reporters on Thursday.

Perhaps most contentious, the new guidelines officially expand the scope of Title IX to include pregnant, gay, and transgender students.

“Title IX requires more, and these final regulations provide it,” said Catherine Lhamon, Education Department assistant secretary for civil rights, who also held the role during the Obama administration.

According to the new understanding, schools that refuse to use pronouns that correspond to a student’s gender identity may be in violation of Title IX.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the new regulation, saying “it dumps kerosene on the already raging fire that is Democrats’ contemptuous culture war that aims to racially redefine sex and gender.”

The Biden administration’s adjustments avoid the contentious issue of whether schools can exclude transgender athletes from participating on women’s and girls’ teams. Officials have proposed a separate rule on that problem, which they claim is still in the works but do not provide a date.

The new regulations received predictably divided reviews.

“After years of pressure from students and survivors of sexual violence, the Biden administration’s Title IX update will make schools safer and more accessible for young people, many of whom suffered irreparable harm while fighting for protection and support,” Emma Grasso Levine, a senior manager at the advocacy group Know Your IX, told NPR.

But critics argue that the reforms violate accused students’ due process rights.

“The Department of Education should recognize that removing procedural protections for students is the exact opposite of fairness,” Will Creeley, legal director of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, wrote on social media. “And by expanding the definition of sexual harassment, the new regulations threaten expressive rights.”

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