Texas Professors Join Lawsuit, Reject New Rules Protecting Transgender Students, Students Seeking Abortion

Two professors are now plaintiffs in Texas' lawsuit against the Biden administration over its new Title IX rules, which prohibit discrimination against transgender and nonbinary students and students pursuing abortions.
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Updated on June 14, 2024
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  • Two University of Texas at Austin professors joined a lawsuit against the Biden administration over new Title IX rules.
  • The lawsuit argues that the new rules would conflict with Texas state laws.
  • The professors say they will not comply with the rules, including refusing to use "they" pronouns and not accommodating students seeking abortions.

Two University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) professors say they will not honor transgender and nonbinary students' requests to use singular "they" pronouns or excuse absences for students seeking "purely elective" abortions, according to a lawsuit.

UT Austin professors Daniel Bonevac and John Hatfield have joined a state lawsuit against the Department of Education (ED) concerning the Biden administration's updated Title IX regulations that prohibit discrimination against transgender and nonbinary students and students pursuing abortions.

The lawsuit, filed May 13, claims ED is attempting "radical social change" by interpreting Title IX to apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and those who have had an abortion. It argues that the new rules would contradict and override Texas state laws.

"Not only does this put Texas schools in a no-win situation — where adherence to the Constitution risks the loss of federal funds — but students and faculty risk having their futures upended merely for refusing to go along with the Biden administration’s radical social agenda," the lawsuit reads.

The final regulations expand the definition of sex-based discrimination to include discrimination and harassment based on pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Bonevac and Hatfield said they have "no intention" of complying with the new Title IX rules. They said they will not excuse absences from students who are seeking out an "illegal or purely elective abortion," including legal abortions out of state.

"I will certainly accommodate students who are seeking medically necessary abortions in response to a pregnancy that threatens the student's life or health," they each wrote. "But I will not accommodate a purely elective abortion that serves only to kill an unborn child that was conceived through an act of voluntary and consensual sexual intercourse."

Abortion is banned in Texas, except in the circumstance where the mother has a life-threatening condition and is at risk of death or "substantial impairment of a major bodily function" if the abortion is not performed, according to the Texas State Law Library.

There is no exception for rape or incest. However, it's not against the law to travel to a neighboring state to obtain an abortion.

Additionally, Bonevac and Hatfield said in their declarations that they would not refer to students with "they" pronouns or allow teaching assistants to "engage in cross-dressing" while in the classroom.

The professors added that they would not object to hiring a "cross-dresser or transvestite" — terms considered outdated and offensive to the transgender community — as a teaching assistant, but they must "refrain from this behavior" while at work.

"'They' is a plural pronoun, and it is ungrammatical to use a plural pronoun to refer to a single person. I will not violate the rules of grammar or make a fool of myself to accommodate a student's delusional belief," according to Bonevac's declaration, which is nearly identical to Hatfield's statement.

Merriam-Webster notes that the singular use of "they" as a pronoun has been in continuous use since the late 1300s. In 2015, the American Dialect Society voted for the gender-neutral singular pronoun "they" as the Word of the Year.

Several states and conservative groups have filed lawsuits against the Biden administration over new Title IX rules that are scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1, 2024. The new regulations will replace Trump-era rules from 2020 that addressed sexual misconduct and established requirements for how colleges and universities handle Title IX complaints.

Multiple states, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, have also announced they will reject the rules.

The Texas lawsuit is the latest higher education-focused case to be heard by federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.

In September 2023, Kacsmaryk ruled that West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) President Walter Wendler did not violate the First Amendment when he canceled a student-organized drag show in March 2023. Wendler called the drag performances "derisive, divisive, and demoralizing."

Students filed a lawsuit shortly after Wendler's announcement attempting to stop him from censoring the organization and seeking to reinstate the performance. They also claimed their First Amendment rights were violated and sought damages.

Kacsmaryk ruled that Wendler has qualified immunity, protecting him from individual liability when acting in his official capacity as university president when his actions "could reasonably have been believed to be legal."

Kacsmaryk also argued that drag shows fall under the category of "sexualized content" and maintained that schools are allowed to restrict "vulgar and lewd" conduct that "undermines the school's basic education mission."

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition by WTAMU students to organize a drag show on campus, siding with the university's decision to ban drag performances on school grounds.