Yesterday, there was a lot of talk online about how Betsy DeVos, our controversial new Secretary of Education, had taken a principled stand on behalf of transgender students, pushing back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump, both of whom had apparently urged her to support the rollback of protections extended by the Obama administration, allowing students at schools accepting government funds to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity. DeVos, according to the New York Times, had taken her concerns directly to Trump, who essentially offered her a choice… either get on board, or step down as Secretary of Education.
DeVos chose to keep her job.
She did, however, release a letter Wednesday evening stating the following.
“We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools… I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.”
And, based on what I saw on social media, a lot of us were encouraged by this. Unfortunately, this afternoon, when DeVos took the stage a CPAC, any illusion those of us on the left might have had that DeVos was going to be a champion for civil rights inside the administration was completely shattered. Here’s the video. In it, you can hear DeVos choosing to discuss the entire episode not in terms of the rights of trans students, but in terms of Obama’s “administration overreach.”
“This issue was a very huge example of Obama administration overreach, one-size-fits-all approach to issues best solved at personal and local level,” DeVos told the enthusiastic CPAC audience.
Some people whom I respect believe that DeVos did as much as she could be expected to do. Stepping down over this, they seem to think, wouldn’t help anyone, as this guidance by the Obama administration would have been rescinded anyway. I’m inclined, however, to say that she could have done more. While I suppose it’s a step in the right direction that she came out and said, she’d been “quietly supportive of gay rights” for some time, it’s not enough. This isn’t a states rights issue. It’s a civil rights issue.
DeVos knows full well that, by reversing this rule, many of our most vulnerable children will suffer. And yet she went along with it. Regardless of how conflicted she may felt about doing so, she made a choice to go along with the administration. She made a choice. She turned her back on trans children so that she could continue to enact her anti-public education agenda. And it’s difficult for me to see much in that worthy of praise. So, yes, it’s nice that she said she was sympathetic, but we should judge her by her actions, not her words. She turned her back yesterday on these children she swore to protect, and we should hold her accountable for that.