Biden administration efforts to protect LGBTQ+ students and workers hit conservative legal roadblocks

The Biden administration’s efforts to shore up protections for LGBTQ+ students and workers were partially hindered by two separate court rulings on Thursday and Friday.

In a preliminary injunction issued Thursday, US District Judge Terry Doughty blocked the Biden administration from implementing the new federal protections for LGBTQ+ students – which are set to take effect August 1 – in Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Idaho.

A separate ruling Friday by a federal appeals court upheld an existing block on federal guidance seeking to protect transgender students and workers in 20 states.

The case Doughty ruled in is one of more than half a dozen challenging new changes to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal aid.

Among other things, the changes aim to curb discrimination “based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics,” according to the Department of Education.

“The Department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee,” department spokesperson Vanessa Harmoush said in a statement after Doughty issued his ruling. “The Department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

The new rules require schools to protect students from all sex discrimination, including sexual violence and sex-based harassment, expanding that definition to include discrimination based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions like childbirth, termination of pregnancy or recovery from pregnancy. Compliance with the new rules is required to receive federal education aid.

The lawsuit brought by the GOP-led states argues that the Biden administration overstepped its authority. The plaintiffs are asking Doughty, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, to strike down the rules nationwide.

LBGTQ+ advocates have argued that Thursday’s ruling will have a “dangerous” impact on members of the community in the four states.

“Today’s decision prioritizes anti-LGBTQ+ hate over the safety and well-being of students,” Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson said in a statement. “This is MAGA theatrics with the dangerous goal of weaving discrimination into law.”

Appeals court maintains block on federal protections for trans students and workers

The 2-1 ruling issued Friday by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a preliminary injunction issued nearly two years ago by a federal judge in a case brought by GOP states against federal guidance intended to protect transgender students and workers in 20 states.

The ruling allows the 20 states to continue enforcing controversial laws without risk of retaliatory action from the administration, including the loss of federal funding for schools.

The guidance, issued by the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is designed to protect transgender individuals from a slew of anti-trans policies, including bans from school sports teams, bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, and measures that allow employers to intentionally refuse to use a worker’s preferred pronouns.

“Taken together, the States are trapped between choosing to enforce state laws or receiving federal funds, all while having to investigate gender-identity and sexual-orientation discrimination (unlike before),” Circuit Judge John Nalbandian wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Judge Joan Larsen. Both judges were appointed by Trump.

“States with conflicting laws will be hampered in their ability to enforce their laws, and the States will continue to face pressure to change their laws to avoid legal consequences,” Nalbandian wrote.

In dissent, Circuit Judge Danny Boggs said he would have wiped away the preliminary injunction and thrown the case out altogether. The judge said he didn’t believe the plaintiffs had the legal right – known as “standing” – to bring the challenge in the first place.

The states that brought this challenge are: Tennessee, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

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