DeVos defends rescinding transgender student protections

Obama’s toilet rules ‘huge example of administration’s overreach’, says education chief

US education secretary Betsy DeVos has defended her decision to rescind transgender protection measures introduced by Barack Obama, claiming that it is up to states, and not the federal government, to decide if students can use the bathroom aligned to their gender identity.

Speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, Ms DeVos said that Mr Obama’s instruction last May to schools to permit students to use bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity was a “huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach”.

She accused the previous administration of adopting a “top-down approach” to issues that are “best dealt with and solved at a personal level, a local level”.

Wednesday’s policy reversal was communicated in a two-page letter to schools issued jointly by the department of justice and education.


It represents the first major policy move by newly-appointed attorney general Jeff Sessions since his confirmation last week. The supreme court is expected to deliver a judgment on the rights of a Virginia transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, who was denied the use of the men's room at his high school in the coming months.

At issue is a federal law known as Title IX, which outlaws sex-based discrimination in education, but it is not clear if that extends to a person’s gender identity.

Outlining the reason for his decision, Mr Sessions said that the previous administration’s reasoning “did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX”. He also argued that it fell to states to decide this issue.

Since the issuance of the guidance last year, approximately half of the 50 states have appealed the decision which has divided American society.

Trump’s immigration policy

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump's immigration policy came under fire on Thursday as the White House's top foreign policy and immigration officials met Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and senior government ministers in Mexico City.

The visit is taking place at a time of unprecedented tensions between the neighbouring countries.

Mexico's foreign minister Luis Videgaray has called the new measures on immigration announced during Mr Trump's first month in office "unilateral" and "unprecedented".

“There’s a concern among Mexicans, there’s irritation before what has been perceived as policies that might be harmful for the Mexicans and for the Mexican industry,” he said in a joint news conference on Thursday.

In particular, Mexico has reacted with alarm to new measures outlined by the Trump administration and the department of homeland security earlier this week designed to speed up deportation of undocumented migrants.

Up to six million undocumented migrants are believed to reside in the United States. Relations are also strained over plans by the US to revisit the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994, and promises by Mr Trump to impose taxes on imports. The smuggling of illegal arms over the border was also discussed during the bilateral meetings.

Deteriorating relations

Mr Nieto cancelled his trip to Washington last month after Mr Trump reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and force Mexico to pay for it in a sign of a deterioration of relations between the two allies.

Mr Trump met with more than 20 chief executives of US manufacturing companies at the White House on Thursday. While few specifics emerged from the meeting as to how Mr Trump plans to implement his campaign pledge to halt the decline of US manufacturing, Mr Trump told the business leaders that America had lost about one-third of manufacturing jobs since it signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, and 70,000 factories had closed since China joined the WTO.

“My administration’s policies and regulatory reforms, tax reforms, trade policies will return significant manufacturing jobs to our country. Everything is going to be based on bringing our jobs back,” he said after the meeting.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent