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LGBTQ students would get new protections under Biden plan

by The Associated Press | June 24, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.
Protesters stand in solidarity with rape victims on the campus of Brigham Young University during a sexual assault awareness demonstration, in Provo, Utah, April 20, 2016. The Biden administration proposed a dramatic overhaul of campus sexual assault rules on Thursday, June 23, 2022, acting to expand protections for LGBTQ students, bolster the rights of victims and widen colleges' responsibilities in addressing sexual misconduct. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

By COLLIN BINKLEY

AP Education Writer

The rights of LGBTQ students would become enshrined in federal law and victims of campus sexual assault would gain new protections under new rules proposed by the Biden administration on Thursday.

The proposal, announced on the 50th anniversary of the Title IX women's rights law, is intended to replace a set of controversial rules issued during the Trump administration by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

President Joe Biden's education secretary, Miguel Cardona, said that even though there have been significant strides toward gender equality, discrimination and sexual violence persist.

"Even as we celebrate all the progress we've achieved, standing up for equal access and inclusion is as important as ever before," he said.

The proposal is almost certain to be challenged by conservatives, and it is expected to lead to new legal battles over the rights of transgender students in schools, especially in sports. It now faces a public feedback period before the administration can finalize any changes, meaning the earliest that the policy is likely to take effect is next year.

The step meets a demand from victims rights advocates who wanted Biden to release new rules no later than the anniversary of Title IX, which outlaws discrimination based on sex in schools and colleges. Advocates say DeVos' rules have gone too far in protecting students accused of sexual misconduct, at the expense of victims.

As a presidential candidate, Biden had promised a quick end to DeVos' rules, saying they would "shame and silence survivors."

For the first time, the rules would formally protect LGBTQ students under Title IX. Nothing in the 1972 law explicitly addresses the topic, but the new proposal would clarify that the law applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It would make clear that "preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation of Title IX," according to the department. More specific rules dealing with the rights of transgender students in school sports will be released later, the department said.

Biden marked the anniversary of Title IX by acknowledging the impact the law has had in advancing equity but acknowledging there was more to do.

"As we look to the next 50 years, I am committed to protecting this progress and working to achieve full equality, inclusion, and dignity for women and girls, LGBTQI+ Americans, all students, and all Americans," he said in a statement.

Many of the proposed changes would restore Obama-era rules that DeVos' policy replaced.

The definition of sexual harassment would be expanded to cover a wider range of misconduct. Schools would be required to address any allegation that creates a "hostile environment" for students, even if the misconduct arises off campus. Most college employees, including professors and coaches, would be required to notify campus officials if they learn of potential sex discrimination.

Republicans in Congress were quick to denounce the proposal. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the rules will "demolish due process rights and the safety of young women and girls across the country, with promised regulations still to come to undermine women's access to athletic opportunities."

If the proposal is finalized, it would mark the second rewrite of federal Title IX rules in two years. DeVos' rules were themselves intended to reverse Obama-era guidance. The Obama policy was embraced by victims advocates but led to hundreds of lawsuits from accused students who said their colleges failed to give them a fair process to defend themselves.

The whiplash has left many schools scrambling to adopt ever-changing rules. Some have pressed for a political middle ground that will protect students without prompting new rules every time the White House changes power.

DeVos' rules dramatically reshaped the way colleges handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment, with an emphasis on ensuring the constitutional due process rights of the accused.

DeVos also reduced colleges' obligations in responding to complaints. Her policy narrowed the definition of harassment and scaled back the types of cases colleges are required to address.

Print Headline: LGBTQ students would get new protections under Biden plan

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