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Judge blocks Biden Title IX rule in 6 states, including Kentucky

 A large group of protestors hold up colorful signs that support trans rights and decry Senate Bill 150, which became law after the 2023 legislative session.
Jess Clark
Dozens of students rally at the University of Louisville to demand protection for transgender community members.

A federal judge in Kentucky blocked a new Title IX rule that would have shielded LGBTQ+ students from discrimination.

A federal judge in Kentucky blocked a new Biden administration Title IX rule Monday in six states that would have banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation — not solely sex. The opinion applies to Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky began his 93-page opinion by writing, “There are two sexes: male and female." He concluded by blocking the enforcement of the new rule that would have been implemented in August.

The new rule would have extended the 1972 civil rights provision to explicitly include LGBTQ+ students under the umbrella. It also expands the definition of sexual harassment at schools and colleges and adds additional safeguards for victims.

Reeves wrote that the rule exceeds the Department of Education’s authority by expanding the definition of “sex.” Reeves also said that the new rule doesn’t address concerns over “student and faculty safety” because it allows boys and men to enter sex-segregated bathrooms and changing rooms “without restriction.”

Reeves also said he believed the case would win out on parental rights' grounds.

“It follows that parents retain a constitutionally protected right to guide their own children on matters of identity, including the decision to adopt or reject various gender norms and behaviors,” Reeves wrote.

Six Republican attorneys general brought the challenge in April, including Kentucky. Reeves also barred the rule from taking effect in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

Tennessee Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, who led the multi-state coalition, said the new rule went too far beyond the original intentions of Title IX.

“Here you have an unaccountable federal bureaucracy, making huge changes to a long established law, purportedly interpreting it but effectively rewriting it. That's not the way our system works,” Skrmetti said.

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman said in a statement that he joined the lawsuit to protect women and girls from harm.

“We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

Kentucky has already enacted several laws targeted at transgender youth in the state. In 2022, the state legislature banned trans athletes from girls and women’s sports teams, requiring that athletes on women’s and girls sports teams in middle school, high school and college are labeled female on their birth certificates. Republican lawmakers who supported the legislation applauded the Monday court ruling.

“As the sponsor of the 'Save Women’s Sports Act,' I view today’s ruling as further affirmation of the necessity of legislation championed by the Republican supermajorities in the Kentucky General Assembly and defended by our Republican attorney general,” said Kentucky state Sen. Robby Mills in a statement.

Last year, Kentucky lawmakers also banned gender-affirming medical treatment for trans youth and prohibited teaching about gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation for all grade levels. Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed both measures, which were easily overridden by the state’s Republican supermajority.

Chris Hartman is the executive director of the Kentucky Fairness campaign, which works to pass anti-LGBTQ discrimination ordinances across the state. Hartman called the ruling one of the “most ignorant opinions to come out of the courts, period.” He said it was particularly disappointing to hear about just days after attending the Kentuckiana Pride Festival, which boasted record attendance this year.

“Our trans kids are, sadly, used to at this point being in the crosshairs of some of the highest levels of power in our Commonwealth, and America, and now, including the courts,” Hartman said. “I wish that folks could fully grasp the deadly effect that it can have on so many in our community.”

Hartman encouraged schools to enact versions of the rule regardless, saying he is confident that it would prevail in the courts eventually.

“Several school districts are already doing all that they can within the confines of the current laws to support and include transgender students in every aspect of school life, which is the minimum that they deserve,” Hartman said.

ACLU Kentucky Legal Director Corey Shapiro said he found the legal arguments in Reeves’s opinion that allow teachers to misgender or discriminate against trans students “disturbing and upsetting.”

“The court seems to decide that a teacher's bigoted views, if held under the guise of religion,
would have greater weight than the safety and the health of the students for whom they're supposed to be in charge of teaching and taking care of,” he said.

Shapiro said Reeves took a narrow view of existing precedence, like a landmark Supreme Court ruling that found Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of sexuality and gender identity — another extension of sex discrimination, but in the context of employment rather than education.

Last Thursday, a federal judge in Louisiana also blocked the new rule in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana, calling it “an abuse of power.” Twenty-six Republican-led states have filed lawsuits in opposition to the rule, according to Education Week. At the same time, Democrat-controlled states have widely supported the rule, and 16 Democratic attorneys general filed a joint amicus brief in one of the challenges.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional details from Tennessee's attorney general and the ACLU of Kentucky.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.
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