GOP official tells Tennessee colleges to say Title IX doesn’t protect LGBTQ+ people

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates federal law, Department of Educations says

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Sunday 04 September 2022 21:11 BST
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Universities in Tennessee are under pressure from a Republican state lawmaker who wants them to take down materials describing LGBTQ+ people as a protected group under federal law.

In August, representative John Ragan, chair of the state’s Government Operations Committee, sent letters to Tennessee schools including the University of Tennessee and East Tennessee State University, demanding they “immediately” the LGTBQ-inclusive language to comply with state law.

“Universities are not at liberty to ignore state law, regardless of their accreditation,” Mr Ragan told WREG-TV. “These are not governmental entities, and as such universities must follow state law over and above what these organizations tell them.”

He argued the schools must remove the language to comply with a July federal court ruling blocking the federal Department of Education from enforcing proposed regulations that would treat gender and sexual identity as a protected identities under Title IX, a 1972 federal law barring sex discrimination at educational insitutions that receive federal funding.

Mr Ragan’s letter-writing effort was met with mixed responses.

ETSU struck a statement from its website that read,  “individuals of all genders and sexual orientations and applies to students, faculty, staff … and other participants in University educational programs and activities,” News Channel 11 reported.

Kate Craig, an LGTBQ+ state senate candidate who attended ETSU, told WJHL the pressure on universities was “incredibly sad, tragic and dangerous for students at ETSU, because the protections that ETSU has offered to students, that does fall under Title IX.”

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee said this week it felt its diversity and inclusion policies were fully compliant with applicable civil rights laws, writing in a response to Rep Ragan that “it did not modify its publications, policies, or websites relating to Title IX in response to either the June 23, 2021 letter from the U.S. Department of Education or the injunction issued on July 15, 2022, by the federal district court.”

Representative Ragan has pushed for various policies to diminish LGTBQ representation in educational settings, including a controversial Tennessee law that bans K-12 educators from teaching certain ideas about race and gender in the classroom.

The law contains 14 “prohibited concepts,” and comes with stiff financial penalties for violators.

“If you don’t like the law, you can file another bill to change it.” said Mr Ragan told colleagues earlier this year.

In July, in a lawsuit from 20 Republican attorneys general led by Tennessee, a Trump-appointed federal judge found that proposed federal regulations applying Title IX to LGTBQ+ people “directly interferes with and threatens Plaintiff States’ ability to continue enforcing their state laws.”

“As it currently stands, plaintiffs 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,” judge Charles Atchley wrote in his ruling.

The GOP states argued in the suit that the new DOE rules would force them to go against their state laws barring trans people from using bathrooms and playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

Both federal officials and recent court rulings say that LGTBQ+ people are protected under federal law.

According to the Department of Education, Title IX requires universities to operate “in a nondiscriminatory manner free of discrimination based on sex including sexual orientation and gender identity” in key areas like admissions, recruitment, sports, financial aid, and sexual harassment reporting and discipline.

The department explained the proposed regulations suspended in the recent court ruling “reflect the Department’s continued commitment to ensuring that federally funded education programs and activities are free from all forms of sex discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

In 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v Clayton County ruled discrimination based on sexual orientation vioaltes the Civil Rights Act, after a Georgia government employee was fired for participating after it was discovered he played in a gay recreational softball league. 

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