In a Senate hearing on June 6, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos referred to discrimination against LGBTQ students as an area of “unsettled” law, and repeatedly evaded questions on the subject by deferring to federal law, leaving the issue as a matter for the courts and Congress. GLSEN’s Director of Public Policy, Nathan Smith, released the following statement in response:
Simply deferring to current federal law is a wholly inadequate response when students across the country face denial of their most basic rights, particularly when Secretary DeVos remains opaque about her Department’s interpretation of that law. It matters little whether Secretary DeVos personally opposes discrimination, as she repeatedly avowed in the hearing; the onus is on the Department of Education to fulfill its responsibility to enforce students’ civil rights, and to provide a clear answer affirming that LGBTQ students have a right to attend school free from discrimination.
An inclusive, non-discriminatory learning environment is critical to student success. Research has shown that LGBTQ students who experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination were three times more likely to miss school, had lower GPAs, and lower self-esteem than their peers. Secretary DeVos has a responsibility to stand up for all students, one which, to date, she has evaded. It is past time for Secretary DeVos to stop hiding behind her personal beliefs, Congress, or the courts; she can and must fulfill the Department of Education’s duty to protect the rights of all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, by making clear that discrimination is not acceptable and that government dollars will not be allocated to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ youth.
By once again turning a blind eye to LGBTQ students who experience discrimination in school, Secretary DeVos continues to prove why she was the wrong choice to lead our nation’s education system. DeVos once claimed she was an LGBTQ ally, but has now supported back to back policies that would erase LGBTQ students from classrooms. If she wants to be known as more than an anti-LGBTQ activist the time is now to reverse course.