Federal Judge Blocks Title IX Protections for LGBTQ+ Students

For now, the Education Department cannot protect transgender students from discrimination in 20 states with laws restricting them from playing sports and using bathrooms matching their gender identity.
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  • The Biden administration extended Title IX protections to include gender identity in June 2021.
  • The preliminary injunction means the Department of Education cannot enforce Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ students from discrimination at public colleges.
  • The ruling comes amid a wave of anti-trans laws being passed by state legislatures.

A federal judge late Friday temporarily blocked the Department of Education's (ED) Title IX guidance that protects LGBTQ+ students at public institutions from discrimination.

In the preliminary injunction, Eastern District of Tennessee Judge Charles Atchley said ED's guidance "directly interferes with and threatens Plaintiff States' ability to continue enforcing their state laws" that restrict transgender people from playing on sports teams and using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Title IX is the federal regulation that bans sex-based discrimination. ED announced in June 2021 that it interprets Title IX rules to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. President Joe Biden's administration is now in the process of codifying that interpretation into official Title IX regulations.

The preliminary injunction was in response to a lawsuit filed by 20 state attorneys general against ED and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to block enforcement of the Biden administration's Title IX interpretation. The state attorneys general argued that it infringes on states' right to implement the administration's policies at public institutions.

Judge Atchley ultimately declared that states have solid legal standing to dictate these policies for their institutions.

"As it currently stands, [states] must choose between the threat of legal consequences — enforcement action, civil penalties, and the withholding of federal funding — or altering their state laws to ensure compliance with the guidance and avoid such adverse action," Atchley wrote in his injunction. "As other courts have recognized, being left to such an untenable choice inflicts substantial pressure on [states] to change their state laws."

The preliminary injunction will remain in effect until a court reaches a final resolution of the lawsuit, according to the court order.

Advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), spoke out against the injunction, stressing that the ruling may negatively impact LGBTQ+ students and workers.

"We are disappointed and outraged by this ruling from the Eastern District of Tennessee where, in yet another example of far-right judges legislating from the bench, the court blocked guidance affirming what the Supreme Court decided in Bostock v. Clayton County: that LGBTQ+ Americans are protected under existing civil rights law," Joni Madison, interim president of the HRC, said in a statement.

Bostock v. Clayton County was a 2020 Supreme Court case that decided the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Interpretations of that ruling extended to Title IX protections for college students.

Atchley's injunction comes at a time when transgender people in the U.S. are increasingly becoming the targets of discriminatory state laws across the U.S, according to a CNN analysis of American Civil Liberties Union data.

Higher ed researchers previously told BestColleges that religious colleges and universities have also introduced more anti-trans policies in recent years.