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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

Federal Agencies Release Guidance on Civil Rights Protections for Transgender Students

May 16, 2016

In a  “Dear Colleague Letter” issued on May 13, the Obama administration clarified its requirements on non-discrimination—particularly for transgender students—under Title IX.

Federal action came following North Carolina’s enactment of a law requiring people to use public restrooms based on the gender that appears on their birth certificate.  In the letter, federal officials state, “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and its implementing regulations prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”

While media attention has focused on implications for elementary and secondary education, as does much of language of the guidance itself, it is also applicable to colleges and universities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The guidance highlights several areas where institutions must ensure nondiscrimination:

  • Safe and Nondiscriminatory Environment
  • Identification Documents, Names, and Pronouns
  • Sex-Segregated Activities and Facilities
  • Privacy and Education Records

In addition to restrooms and locker rooms, the document also offers specific guidance for athletics, single-sex classes and schools, social fraternities and sororities (which are permitted under Title IX to set their own policies), and housing and overnight accommodations.  

Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, co-authors of the joint guidance, stated in an ED blog post, “The Departments’ guidance identifies the key requirements that schools need to keep in mind to comply with Title IX and other federal laws.”

The American Council on Education distributed a summary document that may be useful to your institution.


Liz Clark
Senior Director, Federal Affairs