Last October, the Supreme Court heard three cases which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, includes discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—even if it didn’t use those words explicitly—because these kinds of discrimination are inextricable from sex-based discrimination. That argument succeeded, but it was far from a given, not with a court to which Justice Brett Kavanaugh had just been appointed, not with Trump’s Department of Justice reversing course from the Obama administration’s guidance on including LGBTQ people in such civil rights protections.
It was also a fragile victory. The Trump administration has not been slowed in its attempts to roll back trans rights, in health care, in housing, and in education. A civil rights victory at the Supreme Court, even a high-profile one, doesn’t guarantee those rights. A win there can’t provide trans people the resources to take on multi-year anti-discrimination cases. Often times, as we have seen with abortion rights, a big win emboldens the opponents of a given right to just escalate their attacks elsewhere.
This is what we are seeing happen now, as the Department of Education has threatened to withhold federal funds from several Connecticut school districts, claiming the schools are violating federal anti-discrimination laws by allowing transgender students to compete in athletics. They claim that because the school districts are members of a statewide student athletics conference with a policy of permitting students to participate in athletics in accordance with their gender identity, they are in violation of Title IX, which protects students from discrimination in education.
If the school districts don’t comply with the Education Department’s demands to leave the conference by October 1, they stand to lose around $18 million dollars meant for school desegregation programs. It’s just the latest front in a national campaign, spearheaded by the conservative Christian organization the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), to launch another panic like the one over transgender students and school bathrooms, which they also helped spread.
Last year, ADF identified three students in Connecticut school districts who say they have been discriminated against, as cis girls in student athletics programs, by the participation of trans girls. (ADF also refuses to acknowledge that the trans girl athletes are girls.) They filed a complaint on their behalf with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. As ACLU Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett told Outsports at the time, “This complaint is just another way of taking away personal autonomy and making the government ‘the gender police’. That’s offensive and it’s just another attack on trans people.”