Audrey Ligier is pictured here with her father J.D. and brother Donovan. They all testified in a Senate hearing against proposed restrictions for transgender teenagers. The restrictions would have affected Audrey personally. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Illuminator)
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry joined 20 other attorneys general in sending a letter to President Joe Biden expressing their opposition to the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people. Title IX is a federal law passed in the 1970s that seeks to protect from sex discrimination anyone in an education program that receives federal money.
The department is interpreting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in the Bostock v. Clayton County to mean that “discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on gender identity inherently involve treating individuals differently because of their sex.”
“The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination – and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a June 16 written statement. “Today, the Department makes clear that all students – including LGBTQ+ students – deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination.”
In a Wednesday statement, Landry says the Department of Education’s interpretation amounts to a “flawed reading” of the Supreme Court’s decision and is an attempt “to force radical changes on nearly every school across the Nation.”
Landry said the department’s interpretation means “schools will no longer be allowed to preserve the privacy of middle school and high school students by ensuring they can use sex-specific showers, locker rooms, and restrooms.” The Education Department’s notice of interpretation makes no mention of sex-specific showers, locker rooms or restrooms.
In their letter to the president, the attorneys general argue that the First Amendment protects “the right to ascribe pronouns to others based on their sex” and argue that a refusal to use a person’s preferred pronouns doesn’t violate the law.
“Nothing about Bostock’s reasoning suggests that an employer would violate Title VII by refusing to adopt an employee’s nontraditional pronouns,” the attorneys general write.
Victor Jones, a New Orleans civil rights attorney with an emphasis on children’s rights and disability rights, said different presidents have interpreted Title IX protections differently. The Obama administration was the first to say that transgender youth are included, Jones pointed out, and the Trump administration reversed those protections when he took office and “Title IX protections for trans students were non existent.”
The interpretation of Title IX protections to include transgender youth “encountered a host of challenges in federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court,” Jones said, and the courts ruled the department has the authority to include discrimination against transgender youth in Title IX protections.
“What we’re seeing under the Biden administration is literally a regurgitation of what we saw under the Obama administration — which is that Title IX protections now extend to transgender students — and they have the authority to do that,” Jones said.
Landry is “politicizing an issue that has already been settled by the courts — which is something he is notorious for doing,” Jones said.
The Louisiana Department of Education didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
J.D. Ligier said Thursday that he is concerned and saddened by Landry’s opposition. His daughter, Audrey Ligier, had gender dysphoria since she was very young, Ligier said, but lived in a community that was accepting of Audrey’s transition.
In fact, Audrey was elected homecoming queen at Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans. Her father said the family were the targets of bigoted comments and death threats after the news of Audrey’s election.
Ligier said he had friends in high school in the LGBTQ community die by suicide because of harassment, and he “wanted to give Audrey the confidence to make her proud of who she is.”
“If we lived outside of New Orleans, I’d have wanted her to hide her true self for her safety,” Ligier said. He said he’s concerned for other parents of LGBTQ students across the state who don’t live in communities that are as accepting as Audrey’s.
Dylan Waguespack, president of Louisiana Trans Advocates, said he’s concerned for LGBTQ+ youth in the state who face “alarming rates of violence and harassment in our schools” and the attorney general’s opposition to discrimination protections has “the effect of spreading disinformation.”
Eighty-five percent of K-12 Louisiana transgender students experienced some form of mistreatment — “such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted” — according to the U.S. Transgender Survey.
“Louisiana students should know that they are protected from discrimination, but when someone like Landry pretends these rights are questionable, it empowers bad actors to violate them,” Waguespack said in a text message to a reporter. “He’s playing a dangerous game, and he’s not risking his own safety but that of actual children.”
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