Department of Education Memo Says Govt May Investigate Refusal to Use Students’ Preferred Pronouns

Photo Credit: Elias Minasi

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Education recently released a memo that, while scaling back the Obama administration’s insistence that schools allow “transgender” students to use the restroom that matches their “internal sense of gender,” also advises that schools may still be investigated for failing to look into hostile situations, such as when there is a refusal to use students’ preferred names and pronouns.

The memo, written by Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson, was released to regional directors on June 6 and outlined the latest developments surrounding the Department’s enforcement of Title IX issues.

It noted that the Departments of Education and Justice withdrew the previous administration’s guidance surrounding transgender students, and that the U.S. Supreme Court had remanded the Gloucester, Virginia case—which involved Gavin Grimm, a girl who identifies as a boy and wished to use the men’s restroom—back to the lower courts, considering that the Trump administration had withdrawn with Obama administration’s directives.

However, the memo outlined that discrimination, bullying and harassment are still prohibited and may be subject to investigation. It provided specific examples of allegations that would be subject to investigation.

Among the examples was “[f]ailure to assess whether … gender-based harassment, i.e., based on sex stereotyping, such as acts of verbal, non-verbal, or physical aggression, intimidation or hostility based on sex or sex stereotyping … of a transgender student created a hostile environment.”

It elaborated on what the Department considers to be an act of intimidation and hostility, “such as refusing to use a transgendered student’s preferred name or pronouns when the school uses preferred names for gender-conforming students, or when the refusal is motivated by animus toward people who do not conform to sex stereotypes.”

The memo also noted that “[i]t is permissible, for example, for one allegation in a complaint (such as harassment based on gender stereotypes) to go forward while another allegation (such as denial of access to restrooms based on gender identity) is dismissed.”

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Read the memo in full here.

However, public revelation of the memo’s language has concerned some pro-family groups, including the religious liberties organization Liberty Counsel.

“Title IX does not require a school district or teacher to call students by false gender pronouns,” Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. “Title IX is silent regarding the use of pronouns, and it cannot be a violation to refer to students by pronouns consistent with their actual sex.”

“Requiring false pronoun usage by teachers is a compelled speech violation for teachers and compelling students to participate in a lie violates their right to free speech,” he continued. “I thought we had seen the last of this nonsense coming out of the Department of Education. I call upon Betsy DeVos to end this new policy.”

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