Transgender Students at Center of Title IX Debate

Transgender Students at Center of Title IX Debate
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Angelique Geehan

Published on August 11, 2021

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The ongoing Title IX debate carries double significance for transgender students. The law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in public schools governs both school sports and bathrooms as well as cases of student sexual assault. Both aspects of the law are being reappraised under the Biden administration, which has made transgender rights central to education policy.

One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives, according to a National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimate. Transgender K-12 students experience significantly higher rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual violence. At college, transgender students face elevated risk for campus sexual assault.

One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives, according to a National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimate.

President Joe Biden directed the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education (ED) to conduct a review of the previous administration's Title IX rule-making on sexual assault. The order asked the ED to "account for the significant rates at which students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) are subject to sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence."

The ED kicked off the review process with a series of public hearings. In June, the department issued a Q&A on Title IX that provides guidance around bullying on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation and a new interpretation of Title IX that extends protections to transgender students, rejecting the position taken by the ED under the Trump administration.

The interpretation stems from Bostock v. Clayton County, a case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year that ruled employers can't discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty-one state attorneys general told President Biden the reinterpretation seeks to rewrite law, skirting "procedural safeguards or democratic accountability," and that Bostock specifically did not address Title IX or restroom access.

Transgender Students Face Elevated Risk on Campus

Title IX requires colleges to track sexual assault, but only recently have schools and researchers begun to include LGBTQ+ identities in their data. A 2015 study from the Association of American Universities found sexual assault numbers are especially high for transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Campus assault data has told the same story for decades: Risk for sexual assault and misconduct is highest among female undergraduates. As targeted as young women of any orientation are for sexual harassment and violence, LGBTQ+ youth of all genders often face disproportionate bullying, harassment, and victimization.

Transgender students are also slightly more likely than cisgender female students to experience sexual assault involving physical force or incapacitation.

Under 5% of male students of any orientation and gender experience sexual assault, compared to 17% of female students of any orientation and gender. Meanwhile, 19% of LGBTQ+ students, regardless of gender, face sexual assault.

Transgender students are also slightly more likely than cisgender female students to experience sexual assault involving physical force or incapacitation. Studies suggest students' risk of assault is higher in schools that restrict transgender students from using the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their identity.

College LGBTQ+ Population Grows

Issues surrounding LGBTQ+ students on campus continue to gain relevance. A growing share of people identify as LGBTQ+, particularly among college-aged individuals. One in six Generation Z adults consider themselves LGBTQ+.

College students are more likely to identify as LGBTQ+, more likely to know someone who is transgender, and more likely than those who do not have a college degree to say a person's gender can be different from the one they were assigned at birth.

The Biden administration is making transgender rights a priority — addressing gender markers on passports, reversing a Trump-era policy that didn't allow transgender people to transition while serving, and applying the Supreme Court's Bostock decision to education policy. However, the legality of applying Bostock, a Title VII decision, to Title IX remains up for debate.


Reviewed by:

Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have to themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender-binary, nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.


Feature Image: David Malan / Stone / Getty Images

As you gear up to return to campus life, understand how complex issues related to campus sexual assault are regaining relevance. Recent attention on the differences between men's and women's championships in multiple sports has shone a light on remaining inequity in college athletics. The Biden administration's "expansive interpretation" of Title IX to prosecute discrimination based on sexual orientation meets resistance from state Republicans.