(NEW YORK) — Advocates and the transgender community are putting out a loud call to “protect trans kids” after the Trump administration revoked federal guidance established by the Obama administration that directed schools to allow trans students to use restrooms aligning with their gender identity.
The U.S. Justice and Education Departments said in a letter to schools on Wednesday that the issue of bathroom access for trans students should be determined by states instead of the federal government. The letter added that the Obama administration’s guidance caused legal confusion and sparked lawsuits.
Though the new federal guidance to schools does not affect other safeguards against harassment and bullying, the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement that it does send “a dangerous message that the current administration will not enforce inclusive policies or stand up for [trans students] at school.”
In a statement, the White House defended the guidance. “As President [Donald] Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level,” the White House said Wednesday. It added that the guidance letter “paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”
ABC News spoke to several trans students and their families about the Trump administration’s new guidance. They largely expressed heartbreak and concerns that some states would feel empowered to discriminate more against trans people, but they also emphasized the resilience of the trans youth community in their fight forward.
Here’s what they had to say:
One of the most vocal trans students in the fight for bathroom access is Gavin Grimm — a teen who sued the Glocester County, Virginia, school board in 2015 to use the boys’ bathroom at his school. His case has garnered national headlines and will be heard by the Supreme Court in March.
At a gathering in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Grimm told the crowd his school board “stepped in to complicate my ability to be myself,” and unfortunately, “my story is the story of many young people around the nation.”
Despite this, Gavin declared that trans youth “will not be beaten down by this administration or any.”
“No one — not even the government — can defeat a community so full of life, color, diversity, and most of all, love,” he said through tears.
Scores of people at the gathering in D.C. held signs that read, “Protect Trans Kids,” and “Love Trumps Hate.” Many were also chanting phrases like “Save our students!” and “No hate! No fear! Trans students are welcome here!”
Gavin told ABC News on Wednesday that he believes there were always going to be “setbacks” and “twists in the road,” but said he was hopeful that the nation would move toward love, equality and acceptance.
Lucas Segal is a senior at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and a youth ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign.
He and his mother, Connie Dean, told ABC News today that they were concerned the Trump administration’s decision would lead to more discrimination against trans youth and the passage of more “anti-trans” bills by states.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more bathroom bills popping up across the country,” Segal said. “If the president really cared about trans youth and youth in general, he would have kept the guidance to protect trans youth and not put out guidance allowing states to discriminate.”
Dean added that she was fearful more “religious freedom” bills could also pop up in states across the country, allowing businesses and services, including health-care providers, to discriminate against trans people.
The mother also said that the new guidance from Trump has renewed anxieties she has over her son’s physical safety, as well as his emotional and mental well-being.
Dean added that she believes more officials “need to put a face to the name and get to know us because a lot of their decisions have come from a place of ignorance.”
Kimberly Shappley is the mother of 6-year-old Kai, a trans girl in Pearland, Texas. Shappley has been fighting against the Pearland Independent School District to allow her daughter to use the girls’ bathroom.
The mother told ABC News that her daughter is still required to use a private bathroom in the nurse’s office, and said that she fears that the discrimination her kindergartner has had to face will only get worse from here.
“When the president of the United States has come out and said, ‘I’m going to allow your state to discriminate against your child,’ that is not comforting to me as a mom,” Shappley said. “Ever since the news last night, I’ve gone through the whole gamut — crying, being mad and being scared.”
Though 6-year-old Kai is not aware nor understands the new guidance from the Trump administration, “She has noticed she’s not allowed to use the same bathroom as her peers and is upset by that,” Shappley said.
“Adults are teaching my child something she shouldn’t have to learn at 6 years old,” she said.
Shappley added that she has anxieties over what Trump’s decision could mean for parents of trans kids across the country.
“Do we have to change states and move to a state where I know there are laws to protect my child?” she asked. “It’s challenging because if our government starts dictating where we can live safely, then politicians will continue gerrymandering and we’ll continue to see presidential elections won by the minority because we have the majority huddled in places that are safe.”
Another trans teen who has garnered national attention is Juliet Evancho, the 18-year-old sister of Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old opera singer who performed the national anthem at President Trump’s inauguration.
The two sisters said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” today that they were “very disappointed” by the Trump administration’s decision to leave the issue of bathroom access for trans teens up to states. They also said they wanted to meet with the president and “enlighten” him and his administration on trans issues.
Juliet Evancho told GMA she would tell the president that she has experienced discrimination every day as a student “at a high school where the policies on the bathroom are unclear.”
Juliet Evancho recently joined forces with Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy group for LGBT rights, to file a lawsuit against her local school board in suburban Pittsburgh after the board voted to ban transgender students from using the bathrooms in line with their gender identity.
“I’ve had things thrown at me, I’ve had people say pretty horrible things — and the unsafe environment is just very unhealthy,” she said.
Alisa Bowman is the mother of Ari, a 12-year-old trans boy from Pennsylvania who became a local celebrity after a video of him delivering a powerful speech to his school board went viral in September.
During his speech, Ari countered what he saw as hateful and ignorant rhetoric about trans students, according to his mother.
Today, Bowman told ABC News that she believes the country has “taken a step backward” as a result of the Trump administration’s revocation of guidance supporting bathroom access for trans kids in school.
“This is not a states rights’ issue,” she said. “If we care about all children, then we all have to say no to limiting bathroom access for trans kids. Right now, it’s the right thing to do — to stop all schools from discriminating against trans students.”
Bowman added that she and Ari are lucky to live in a community where trans students “are affirmed and treated like normal beings,” but said it’s important for everyone to realize that this isn’t the case for thousands of other students in areas where “trans students are honestly being brutalized.”
The mother also said that many families of trans youth are “very scared right now,” but she felt that “the only way we can move forward and create change is if we speak out.”
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