The Trump Administration issued an order earlier this week ending the Obama era policy of federal micromanagement of public school bathrooms. As he issued the order, President Trump reportedly received opposition from a surprising source: newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Both CNN and the New York Times cite sources within the Administration who say that Mrs. DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were in conflict over the initial draft of bathroom order. Both the Justice and Education Departments were initially in agreement that the Obama policy was an improper federal overreach into state and local matters. In a joint letter, the two departments said that Obama’s policy was enacted “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”
Mr. Sessions and the Justice Department favored a swift reversal of the policy to head off two pending Supreme Court cases that cover transgender bathroom usage. The possibility of a ruling by the high Court that would lock the Obama policy into place made it necessary to act before the cases came to the Supreme Court. The Court was scheduled to hear one of the bathroom cases in March.
The Times cited three Republicans who said that Mrs. DeVos initially resisted signing onto the Trump Administration order on the grounds that it might cause harm to transgender students. DeVos and Sessions clashed over the order and eventually took their disagreement to President Trump. Trump sided with Sessions and reportedly gave Mrs. DeVos the option of supporting the order or resigning.
DeVos eventually gave her assent to the order, but released a separate statement that said, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”
The incident has caused some on the right to suspect that DeVos is soft on resistance to the gay rights movement. Red State pointed out that her political advisor, Greg McNeilly, is in a same-sex marriage and is a LGBT activist. In the Advocate, McNeilly said that DeVos and her husband went “out of their way to show affirmation” for his marriage and views.
“She would say it’s a part of her faith,” said McNeilly in the New York Times. “Her faith teaches her to be tolerant. And like most of America, she’s evolved.”
The New York Times also reported that DeVos’s support for gay rights goes back to the 1990s when she intervened to allow a transgender woman (a biological male) to use the women’s restroom at a Republican call center in Michigan.
John Truscott, a Republican political consultant who worked with DeVos’s husband, Dick, told Buzzfeed in January, “Betsy is supportive of gay marriage.” The Times reported that Betsy DeVos urged other Michigan Republicans to sign a Supreme Court brief in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015, but did not sign herself.
Ironically, LGBT activists opposed the confirmation of DeVos because they considered her a threat to gay rights and accused her of supporting groups that promoted therapy for people with a homosexual orientation. Politifact rated those charges as “mostly false.”
DeVos is apparently one of a growing number of Republicans, particularly from outside the Bible Belt, that support gay rights. President Trump seems to be a member of this group as well, even proudly waving an LGBT flag at a campaign rally last fall. Trump told the publisher of the gay newspaper, Bay Windows, earlier this month that there would be “more forward motion on equality for gays and lesbians.”
The establishment of pro-gay curriculums in many schools, including the entire state of California, has caused conflict with many parents who believe that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are immoral. The new revelations about Mrs. DeVos’s views on gay rights may cause many conservatives to wonder whether her sympathy for gay rights will outweigh her desire to return control of schools back to local school boards and parents.