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Utah joins lawsuit against Biden administration over Title IX rules for transgender students

Four states — Utah, Kansas, Alaska and Wyoming — among growing number of Republican states fighting rule change

By Katie McKellar - Utah News Dispatch | May 15, 2024

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald file photo

People wave transgender flags while attending a rally in support of transgender youth at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

Utah has joined a lawsuit in which four more GOP-led states are suing President Joe Biden’s administration over new Title IX rules to protect transgender students in schools.

Utah joined Kansas, Alaska and Wyoming and the conservative groups Moms for Liberty, Young America’s Foundation and Female Athletes United filing a lawsuit in a federal court in Kansas, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced Tuesday.

“This is the very definition of improper and illegal federal coercion,” Reyes said in a prepared statement about the Biden administration’s Title IX rules. “Holding a sword over school districts, without Supreme Court or other legal precedent and in the absence of Congressional authority, the current administration once again bypasses America’s democratic process and threatens to defund schools that do not bend to its dictates.”

The U.S. Department of Education in April announced a rule to update Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, that undoes changes made under former President Donald Trump’s administration and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The new rule, set to go into effect Aug. 1, will also expand Title IX to include gender identity and sexual orientation. It would codify protections for transgender students from sex discrimination and prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and employees based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

The move has angered Republicans in a growing number of GOP-led states, with legal battles spreading across the country. About two dozen states have sued the Biden administration over the rule, arguing it weakens protections for women and girls.

Utah, Kansas, Alaska and Wyoming are the latest to file a suit, which calls the rule update “unlawful.” It also accuses it of seeking to “politicize our country’s educational system to conform to the radical ideological views of the Biden administration and its allies.”

“Instead of focusing on the true mission of Title IX, which is to protect women and girls from discrimination in education and to protect and promote women’s and girls’ sports, the Defendants attempt to rewrite it entirely to (1) institutionalize the left-wing fad of transgender ideology in our K-12 system and tie school funding to it, (2) mandate that colleges and universities punish students who refuse to comply with these views through a campus grievance process that is akin to ‘kangaroo courts,’ and (3) require schools to provide benefits to students and employees seeking voluntary abortions (even in states where it is outlawed) in direct conflict with Title IX’s abortion neutrality provision,” the lawsuit states.

Reyes called the policy “extreme” and said “both progressives and conservatives seem largely united in opposition to the rule as it attempts to force a redefinition of gender on schools in America.”

“In doing so, the Biden Department of Education vastly overreaches and defies common sense, rendering Title IX much less protective of women and girls in athletics and unraveling decades of gains in women’s sports.”

Marina Lowe, policy director of Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, issued a statement on Wednesday expressing disappointment in Utah joining the lawsuit.

“The new regulations make clear that all students have equal access to educational opportunities, including LGBT students,” she said. “If protection for girls and a desire to promote equal opportunity is truly the goal, taxpayer money and state employee time would be better spent ensuring equal funding and equal access to facilities and resources for girls.”

Last week, a spokesperson for the Education Department told NBC News that the department doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation and all federally funded schools are obligated to comply with the new rule.

Tuesday evening, House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, posted a video on X accusing the Biden administration and Democrats of “actively trying to destroy” Title IX protections for women and girls.

“The new Title IX rule is an attempt to force schools to accommodate the wishes of biological men to enter female only spaces, like locker rooms and bathrooms,” Schultz says in the video. “It also allows them to join female only organizations, letting them play on girls sports teams.”

However, the rule change announced in April does not establish new criteria for transgender athletes, which is a separate rule the Department of Education is still finalizing. That rule would prevent blanket bans on transgender athletes competing in sports that align with their gender identity.

In April, the national LGBTQ+ lobbying organization Human Rights Campaign applauded the rule change as one that would “help ensure LGBTQ+ students can receive the same educational experience as their peers: going to dances, safely using the restroom, and writing stories that tell the truth about their own lives.”

However, the group added it will “continue to call for urgently needed Title IX rule protections from discrimination for transgender student-athletes and other rules for access to health care broadly, including for transgender veterans.”

So far, 24 states have passed laws that ban transgender athletes from competing in sports that align with their gender identity, including Utah. Utah’s law, however, is currently held up in court. In the meantime, a commission determines student athlete eligibility to compete.

This year, Utah also approved a law restricting transgender access to certain bathrooms and locker rooms in government owned and controlled buildings, including in public schools.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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