The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed overhaul of Title IX sex discrimination rules has received hundreds of thousands of comments, which have laid bare the deep divide in opinions in the country regarding LGBTQ rights and other sex-related discrimination issues.
In June, the Department of Education released its proposed changes to Title IX regulations. These changes would broaden the definition of sex-based harassment and discrimination to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Regulations.gov, the website that allows members of the public to comment on policy, had received 235,816 comments on the proposed rule changes by the September 12 deadline.
New protections would also be extended to pregnant and parenting students, strict definitions of sexual harassment implemented by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would be broadened, and Trump-era policies for the process of responding to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sex discrimination would be overturned.
As the proposed rules are currently written, schools would be prohibited from excluding students from educational activities and programs based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the department has decided to consider in a separate rulemaking process whether Title IX ensures transgender students’ rights to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity.
Many LGBTQ students, especially transgender and nonbinary students, have found themselves in the crosshairs of political debates over their identity, and LGBTQ advocates say the proposed rule changes mark a defining moment for these students.
The rights of LGBTQ students have been debated frequently by state and local lawmakers over the past two years since President Biden was elected. These lawmakers have often passed laws banning transgender students from playing on sport teams consistent with their gender identity, prohibiting teachers from using students’ chosen pronouns or chosen names in class, banning books mentioning LGBTQ characters or issues, and limiting discussions of gender and sexuality in the classroom.
A large number of comments received by the Department of Education were identical to each other and were written by groups like the anti-LGBTQ nonprofits Family Policy Alliance and American Family Association. These comments urged readers to “stop Biden’s LGBT agenda in schools” and “help stop Biden’s radical new rule that destroys girls privacy in dressing rooms.”
Thousands of comments were also received supporting protections for LGBTQ students. One transgender commenter wrote that the rule would “hopefully prevent emotionally damaging abuse for our children in the future.”
Apart from voicing support or objections to the rule changes, some commenters also asked that the department make it easier for those experiencing sex discrimination and harassment to report it to their schools.
The Department of Education will now begin reviewing comments, after which it will make its final changes. However, the department has not announced when the final rules will actually take effect.