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Freedom from Sexual Violence

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Pride Month 2020

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Written by Alison McCarthy, CCASA Board Chair

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance[1].” This single sentence has been at the heart of much controversy in the last few months as the US Department of Education’s Final Regulations are implemented by K-12 and Higher Education institutions. Advocates have expressed significant concern regarding the new regulations, with many bracing themselves for what will likely be a devastating impact on sexual assault survivors.

In addition to the damage the new regulations are poised to inflict, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has also ruled that a Connecticut policy allowing transgender female athletes to compete in women’s sports violates the civil rights of cisgender female athletes under Title IX. Because 47% of trans people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime (53% if they are Black)[2], Sexual Assault Advocates passionately pushing back against what it ultimately an interpretation of Title IX have a duty to advocate for the rights of trans people, too.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which governs high school athletics in the state, has a policy that allows transgender students to participate in athletics based on their gender identity. On May 15th, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a finding that this policy violates the rights of cisgender female athletes by denying “female student athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits[3].” The CIAC and school officials have been given 20 days to resolve the violation.

How is it that the very law supposed to protect people from sex-based discrimination is being used to effectively sanction discrimination? The office’s finding was quickly echoed by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, on June 12th, released a final rule that erases protections for transgender patients against discrimination in healthcare. Though the Supreme Court’s momentous decision on June 15th secured LGBTQ rights under Title VII, it is too soon to know how this decision interacts with the Office for Civil Rights’ finding in the case of Title IX.

As advocates continue to champion survivors’ rights, we must center the most marginalized amongst us. Part of upholding this principle means recognizing how oppression is connected, and knowing that advocating for change means fighting for the rights of all marginalized groups. As Audre Lorde so aptly put it, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

[1] https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html

[2] https://vawnet.org/sc/serving-trans-and-non-binary-survivors-domestic-and-sexual-violence/violence-against-trans-and

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/us/connecticut-transgender-student-athletes.html

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