Three Ways Betsy DeVos Has Undermined Protections for Students

It has been more than a year since the Trump-Pence administration began dismantling and withdrawing vital protections in place to support marginalized students. Since her confirmation to office, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made clear that the Department of Education no longer prioritizes protecting all students from harm.

In case you missed it, here are three of the Trump-Pence administration’s most dangerous threats to students under DeVos’ authority:

1. Under the direction of DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, within days of taking office, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice revoked the Obama Administration’s guidance detailing schools’ obligations to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. While students are still entitled to the legal protections guaranteed by Title IX, the action clouded schools’ understanding of their obligations to transgender youth. Reports have since surfaced that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has dismissed cases of discrimination filed by transgender students and their families.

WATCH: Families of transgender kids traveled to the US Dept. of Education (@usedgov) to deliver a message to @BetsyDeVos. The letter, signed by more than 700 parents of trans youth, urges Sec. DeVos to recognize the “basic human and civil rights of transgender students.” pic.twitter.com/IowHTMJWez

— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 8, 2018

.@BetsyDeVosED complained about being criticized for not upholding the rights of students, despite failing time and time again to protect or enforce our nation’s civil rights laws when it comes to protecting #LGBTQ students. pic.twitter.com/rv4eDGm1XD

— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 21, 2018

2. In Sept. 2017, DeVos withdrew vital Title IX guidance related to schools’ obligations to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence — an action that disproportionately impacts LGBTQ people. Studies suggest that nearly half of bisexual women have been raped and half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. HRC’s Jordan Dashow, an LGBTQ survivor, revealed the cruelty behind this message in a powerful oped calling for strong enforcement of Title IX. 

Last year, #LGBTQ survivor Jordan Dashow (@j_dashow) revealed the cruelty behind @BetsyDeVosED’s dangerous decision to rescind #TitleIX sexual assault guidance for schools. Student survivors need to know that the government will take their complaints seriously. #EnoughIsEnough pic.twitter.com/bhWb32uS6y

— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) April 24, 2018

It has been more than six months since the Trump-Pence administration withdrew vital #TitleIX guidance on sexual violence. @HRC continues to demand justice for these student survivors because #EnoughIsEnough. #WorkSafeLearnSafe https://t.co/WVMrN73CNf

— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) April 24, 2018

3. Recently, reports have surfaced that DeVos is considering rescinding guidance protecting students from discrimination in the application of school discipline as part of her new Federal Commission on School Safety. Schools are explicitly prohibited from discriminating against students based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion or disability. In 2014, the Department of Education issued guidance and provided resources to help ensure schools are providing an equal opportunity for all students. The consequences of exclusionary school discipline can be devastating to young people, especially those who may already face marginalization in school, their communities and even at home.

Ignoring discrimination will not make schools safer despite @BetsyDeVosED turning her back on students with marginalized identities. #RethinkDiscipline https://t.co/83FPxuLkAr

— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) March 20, 2018

Rescinding and weakening these and other guidance sends a clear message that the Department of Education will not do its job as a federal agency devoted to enforcing civil rights laws in educational settings. Students need to know that the government will take their complaints seriously and that they will be protected from abuse, harassment and violence.

HRC will continue to fight alongside civil rights and education advocates — both during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and throughout the rest of the year — to protect the civil rights of all students.

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SHAMEFUL: Carson Admits He’s Ignoring Protections for LGBTQ People in Homeless Shelters

Today, HRC criticized Secretary Ben Carson’s shameful admission that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is delaying important resources protecting LGBTQ people in homeless shelters. Carson testified today during a budget hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, HUD, and related agencies.

“Ben Carson today testified before Congress that he is ignoring protections for LGBTQ people in homeless shelters, and defended his inaction by citing debunked and mean-spirited claims about transgender people that completely lack merit,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “The level of ignorance he has consistently shown as the nation’s top housing official is deeply alarming, and has clear consequences for LGBTQ people who experience disproportionate rates of homelessness. When homeless shelters become unwelcome spaces for LGBTQ people, the consequences are devastating.”

Ben Carson has a long history of opposing LGBTQ equality and has been key a figure in the Trump-Pence Administration’s efforts to attack the civil rights of LGBTQ people. Only two weeks ago, Carson floated a new HUD Department mission statement that removed mention of fighting discrimination in housing. Last year, HUD withdrew a notice requiring emergency shelters receiving HUD funding to post information about LGBTQ people’s rights to access shelter safely and in accordance with their gender identity.

During a separate budget hearing today, Betsy DeVos defended the Department of Education’s refusal to investigate reports of discrimination against transgender students in direct conflict with federal court rulings. Last month, HRC called out the Department’s decision to advance the dangerous Trump-Pence anti-LGBTQ agenda.

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Trump Replaces Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo

Today, HRC released the following statement condemning Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo.

“Mike Pompeo’s longstanding opposition to LGBTQ equality makes him a reckless choice to lead our nation’s diplomatic efforts,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The decision to nominate anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo could have serious consequences for the United States and LGBTQ people around the globe. The State Department has a crucial role to play in advancing human rights — a role which was already rapidly declining under Tillerson. This decision has the potential to make a dire situation even worse. Pompeo does not deserve to be confirmed.”

Pompeo’s attacks on LGBTQ equality are long and well-documented: he opposes marriage equality, and, as a member of Congress, co-sponsored legislation to allow states to not recognize same-sex marriage and to allow businesses and organizations using taxpayer dollars a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Equally as troubling, his political career has been funded by anti-LGBTQ hate groups, including the Family Research Council.

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HIV Outbreak in Milwaukee Underscores Importance of Funding Critical Prevention Programs

Milwaukee health advocates are calling for the restoration of funding to combat the epidemic of HIV and STDs in the wake of a shocking uptick in their city. More than 125 people, including teenagers, recently contracted HIV and/or syphilis, a situation that the National Coalition of STD Directors characterized as  “a symptom of under-resourced STD programs.”

In 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed an abstinence-only sex education bill, which experts like Advocates for Youth say are ineffective at stopping sexual activity or reducing teen pregnancy. Reinstating evidence-based in-school sexual health education programs, which Walker cut, is also essential to addressing the epidemic. Wisconsin has also rejected expanding Medicaid, which provides critical health care to at-risk populations.

News of the epidemic comes just two months after the Trump-Pence administration proposed to slash more than $60 million for HIV & AIDS prevention programming from the federal budget.

“These numbers are alarming and clearly indicative of a disturbing gap — not only in the provision of services, but in public education among Milwaukee’s young people,” said HRC Wisconsin State Manager Wendy Strout. “The failure to fund critical prevention programs leads to outbreaks like this, ultimately costing us more in terms of dollars and lives than any public education campaign ever would. To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must fight for it. Here, and across the nation, we must insist that our elected officials treat this epidemic like the national emergency it is, and ensure that cities and states have the tools to combat it.”

The outbreak in Milwaukee exemplifies what sexual health advocates already know: failure to fund critical prevention programs can have devastating effects — just ask Mike Pence.

During his term as governor of Indiana, Pence repeatedly ignored warning signs that there was a potential for an infectious disease outbreak of HIV in his state, and fought against programs designed to slow the surge of HIV cases in the state’s hardest-hit communities. It was only under enormous pressure that Pence was dragged “kicking and screaming” into taking action.

“As we have seen before in places like Indiana, in order for the public to stay safe and healthy, communities need comprehensive, fully-funded, evidence-based public health programming. HRC hopes that the Milwaukee community, working with leading HIV & AIDS prevention experts, can curb this outbreak, get those affected the treatment that they need, and put in place more community health resources to prevent a similar public health crisis in the future,” said Peter Cruz, HRC Foundation Associate Director of HIV & Health Equity.

To learn more about the HIV epidemic and HIV prevention and treatment, visit What Do I Do? A Handbook to Understanding Health & HIV, a resource by HRC and AIDS United.

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