ADF Enlists Betsy DeVos In Its War on Trans Students

Conservative legal activist group Alliance Defending Freedom, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been waiting for its moment to decisively attack the transgender community over bathrooms, and it just found it: An alleged child sexual assault that occurred in a school bathroom. The ADF has enlisted a powerful ally to the cause in the form of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has directed the Office of Civil Rights to investigate. The ADF hopes to use this to undermine inclusive bathroom policies, preying on manufactured fears created by conservatives.

Sexual assault is an extremely serious crime and one that should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law whenever it is reported, as was done in this case, with social services and legal authorities conducting an investigation after the incident was reported. Little is known about this case because the parties involved are underage; the victim, “N.T.,” was just five years old when she says she was assaulted in an elementary school bathroom by another student, also five, who identifies as genderfluid.

The implication the ADF wants to make is that this assault happened because the school supported inclusive bathroom access, in alignment with Decatur City School District policies. It’s pressing the Department of Education to come to the same conclusion, with the OCR telling Politico: “We do not comment on pending investigations — but to be clear, the investigation focuses on the school’s response to a report of sexual assault and the examination of any and all factors that may have contributed to a hostile environment.”

In other words: A five-year-old girl wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted if the district had required trans students to use bathrooms associated with the gender they were assigned at birth, or single-stall restrooms. This mimics years of conservative rhetoric around bathroom inclusion, with many people specifically raising the nightmare scenario of a young girl assaulted by a trans person in a restroom.

But is the problem here really bathroom inclusivity? We know that there have been no reported cases of bathroom sexual assault committed by a trans person, although trans people have reported being the victims of such assaults. We also know that sexual assailants, no matter their gender or history, are going to enter a bathroom regardless as to what the sign on the door says.

We also know that trans people can commit sexual assault, but that’s not because they’re trans, and it has nothing to do with whether they’re in bathrooms.

Stigmatizing trans people by making it sound like they’re sexual predators is an old tool in the conservative playbook. Historically, the same thing was said about gay men, who were marginalized by people who turned their very sexuality into a “sex crime” and suggested that young children weren’t safe around gay men. Now, it’s the trans community, especially trans women, who are being demonized as threats — and by demonizing them, groups like the ADF are putting them at greater risk of transphobic hate crimes.

And there’s another angle to this story. Local media say the allegation of sexual assault was “unfounded,” according to the agencies that investigated. Social media posts about the alleged incident were made and promoted by people hostile to the district’s bathroom inclusivity policy: In other words, people with a strong motive for demonizing the trans community. Hostile parents’ groups are a recurring theme across the U.S., with some being so aggressive with trans students that they’re forced to move to evade harassment and threats.

Could the OCR be investigating a trumped-up complaint to pave the way for further endangering trans children in school, after undermining legal protections put in place during the Obama Administration?

Photo credit: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons

54 comments

Richard E C
Richard E Cooley4 months ago

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Olivia M
Past Member 4 months ago

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Dave f
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Melisa B5 months ago

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Tania N6 months ago

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Tania N6 months ago

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Leo C6 months ago

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Janis K6 months ago

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