Earlier today, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Candice Jackson, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, held a meeting with survivors of sexual violence and their advocates, focusing on the Department of Education and school’s roles in addressing sexual violence. I attended this meeting with Wagatwe Wanjuki, who like me was sexually assaulted at Tufts University, and HRC’s Senior Public Policy Advocate Jennifer Pike Bailey. Wanjuki, Bailey and I–as well as the other survivors and advocates present–focused on the importance of Title IX and the Department of Education’s Title IX sexual assault guidance for survivors of sexual violence.
As a gay male sexual assault survivor, I was glad I was in the room to share my story and why queer sexual assault survivors need DeVos and the Department of Education to enforce Title IX. LGBTQ survivors face higher rates of sexual violence than the general population. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 21.1 percent of lesbian and bisexual female students reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to compared to 8.8 percent of straight female students. In addition, eight percent of gay and bisexual male students reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to compared to 2.5 percent of straight male students. Beyond the student population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped and the 2015 National Transgender Survey reported that 46 percent of respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes.
I saw firsthand the importance of strong enforcement of Title IX. During my senior year at Tufts, the Department of Education found the university in violation of the law for its pattern of mishandling sexual assault and harassment complaints. That announcement, paired with student activism and protests, led Tufts to make several changes to their efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assaults.
It is therefore critical that DeVos and the Department of Education enforce Title IX and maintain the 2011 guidance that details specifically schools’ obligations under Title IX to ensure “prompt and equitable resolution[s]” to complaints of sexual violence. In addition, a 2014 Department of Education Q&A makes clear, “the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”
It is disturbing that DeVos has still refused to commit to maintaining this critical Title IX guidance. It is also disturbing that in a press event today, DeVos refused to acknowledge that Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes gender identity discrimination. We need a strong commitment by DeVos that she and the Department of Education will maintain the Title IX guidance, believe that sex discrimination includes gender identity discrimination, and will continue to vigorously investigate complaints of Title IX violations.
While HRC is grateful that DeVos and Jackson met with us and other organizations and survivors, one meeting with survivors is not enough. DeVos needs to listen to the many survivors of campus sexual violence–many of whom are LGBTQ–to fully understand the importance of Title IX. More importantly, survivors need actions and not just words. The Department of Education needs to make clear that they will maintain the Title IX guidance, not roll it back. Under DeVos’ leadership, the Department of Education revoked important guidance detailing schools obligations to transgender students under Title IX. Rescinding or weakening the Title IX sexual assault guidance would be another attack on the LGBTQ community and a clear message that the Department of Education will not do its job as a federal agency devoted to enforcing civil rights laws in educational settings.