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Biden administration updates campus protections for LGBTQ students, assault victims

Proposed mandate for trans athletes remains under review, Education Department says

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said new regulations build on Title IX, which outlaws discrimination in education based on sex.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said new regulations build on Title IX, which outlaws discrimination in education based on sex. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration on Friday finalized new rules designed to bolster legal protections at colleges and universities for LGBTQ+ and pregnant students and victims of sexual misconduct.

The new rules do not address the politically contentious issue of transgender athletes competing on women’s sports teams, however. Last year, the Department of Education proposed barring schools from enacting blanket bans on transgender athletes, but on Friday, it said those provisions are under review after 150,000 public comments were received.

Over the past four years, a wave of Republican-led states have passed laws that ban trans athletes from scholastic sports. The Republican-controlled House passed a similar measure last year but it was not taken up by the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

The rules released Friday update Title IX, the 1972 law that outlawed discrimination in education based on sex, to include protections for gay and transgender students. It also requires schools to provide “reasonable modifications” for pregnant students, and allow access to a clean, private lactation space for students and employees. 

“For more than 50 years, Title IX has promised an equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our nation’s schools free from sex discrimination,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “These final regulations build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights.”

The expansion of Title IX protections to cover LGBTQ+ students was denounced by Republicans.

“This final rule dumps kerosene on the already raging fire that is Democrats’ contemptuous culture war that aims to radically redefine sex and gender,’’ said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. 

The new rules change some policies enacted by the Trump administration regarding how sexual harassment and assault claims are investigated, including allowing for remote hearings, something sought by victims advocates.

“Today, the Biden Administration finally fulfilled its promise to student survivors to return Title IX to its original intent of protecting their civil rights in the aftermath of sexual violence,’’ said Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us, a nonprofit education and advocacy program focused on campus sexual assault. “This new rule will ensure survivors no longer face retaliation from their institutions for reporting sexual harassment or live under a Title IX that privileges accused perpetrators over students who were sexually assaulted.” 

Administration officials say the new rules strike a balance between protecting victims and ensuring that those accused are treated fairly.

“These final regulations clarify Title IX’s requirement that schools promptly and effectively address all forms of sex discrimination,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

The rules will take effect on Aug. 1 and apply to all colleges and universities that receive federal funds.

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