The Biden administration’s proposal to rewrite the Department of Education’s Title IX ruling drew nearly a quarter of a million public comments in September.
The growing interest suggests that the public is getting a feel for what’s at stake. The new rule will put young women at risk where they should feel safest, deny female students the opportunity to get an education, infringe on parental rights, and ultimately turn K-12 public schools into ideological boot camps.
Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, has long been interpreted as requiring school personnel to prioritize the prevention of sexual harassment. He is best known for leveling the playing field in collegiate athletics for women. In recent years, however, the focus has been on campus sexual misconduct investigations (and frequent violations of due process by campus administrators).
By expanding the definition and scope of sexual harassment to include gender identity and sexual characteristics, and expanding the definition of what constitutes harassment, the proposed rule would require all schools receiving federal funds to make extraordinary accommodations for students who identify as trans.
The mandates are blunt, and the accompanying commentary is ambiguous about how it will affect female biology students. For example, instead of allowing schools to provide a private bathroom for students who identify as trans, the rule requires school officials to provide female facilities for biologically male students. We already know from sexual assaults in the bathrooms of schools that were the first to adopt such reforms, that this will create an unforgivable threat to the safety and well-being of young women.
The proposed rule would also undermine the primary purpose of Title IX, which Congress enacted to open educational opportunities to women. Thanks in large part to the success of this measure, today 47% of Division I college athletes (and 59.5% of all college students) are women. The leadership of the Biden administration threatens to reverse this progress.
If female athletes do not feel safe competing against female athletes who have size and strength advantages due to male puberty, or do not feel comfortable changing in the same room as female athletes who possess male genitalia, they will have a bona fide complaint under Sec. IX, but they will be forced to take their case to the very offices that are working to redefine femininity. And that’s not to mention the women’s records already being broken by biological male athletes, or the opportunities they’ll be deprived of — competing at the highest levels or earning college scholarships — as the number of biological males competing in women’s events. athletics is growing.
But the most profound consequences of this rule will be even more profound. K-12 school districts have already interpreted nondiscrimination mandates as requiring school personnel to support students in their social transition from one gender to another — even if they know the student’s parents will object. As a result, schools develop policies that prohibit notification of parents if the parents do not support their child’s gender change.
The proposed rule would also change the intellectual environment in a harmful way. In an attempt to prevent harassment against transgender people, the rule establishes processes and policies under which speech can only be reported if it interferes with a student’s education. But in practice, this can mean the emergence of rigid speech codes that hinder freedom of conscience. Eighth graders have already been investigated for sexual harassment for refusing to use the plural pronoun “they” to refer to a classmate. When Florida passed a law strengthening parental rights, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a press release urging young children to report school officials to the Office for Civil Rights.
In practice, the rules will be enforced in such a way that public schools become places that enthusiastically celebrate gender transition while discouraging conversations that young people struggling with their gender or sexual identity may find (or claim to find) uncomfortable. We already see students shunning professors for daring to suggest that biological sex differences are real. Who will dare teach that biological sex differences are written into the chromosome of every cell when students and faculty start reporting each other to the Title IX coordinator for offensive ideas?
And that, after all, is the point: to create a new educational landscape fanatically hostile to traditional understandings of gender, family, and sexual development.
The new federal gender identity narrative will advance the left’s ideological agenda, but it comes at a huge cost to young people, especially girls. The explosion of gender dysphoria disproportionately affects young women (in the UK, cases have risen by 4,400% in the past decade). Growing up is hard, especially in this age of social media, even for the most confident young people.
For those who feel anxious about their sexual identity or body image, adolescence can be a scary, emotionally stressful time. The last thing the national government should be doing is encouraging schools to teach troubled girls that becoming a boy is the easy way to solve these problems. In fact, what they need most is patient and understanding mentors—loving mothers and role models—who can help them deal with the challenges of growing up so that they, too, can become self-confident, self-fulfilling women.
• Alexandra Caro Campana is director of the 1776 Center and the Center for Opportunities Now at the America First Policy Institute. Jonathan Podluzhny is director of the Higher Education Reform Initiative at the American Policy Institute.