(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX by proposing sweeping changes to the landmark law that aim to strengthen discrimination protections for transgender and nonbinary students and undo Trump-era rules governing sexual misconduct allegations at schools and universities.
Current Title IX mandates do not protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The changes proposed Thursday would enshrine those as protected identities, as well as boost protections for pregnant students.
The proposed changes also would do away with requirements set by the Trump administration that schools host live hearings and cross-examine students who bring sexual-misconduct claims. Advocates say the requirements place an undue burden on survivors and lessen the likelihood that people will come forward and report such discrimination.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the changes -- which would apply to elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities that receive federal funding -- would “ensure all our nation’s students — no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love — can learn, grow, and thrive in school.”
The Biden administration’s proposed changes maintain that schools should presume a student accused of misconduct is innocent until proven otherwise, but would allow schools to investigate certain allegations regarding off-campus conduct that fall “under the school’s disciplinary authority.”
“Over the last 50 years, Title IX has paved the way for millions of girls and women to access equal opportunity in our nation’s schools and has been instrumental in combating sexual assault and sexual violence in educational settings,” Cardona said.
Enacted in 1972, Title IX, as its come to be commonly known, is the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any federally funded school or education program.
Although the proposed changes do not specifically apply to athletics, adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to Title IX may provide athletes-- particularly those who identify as transgender-- legal recourse to fight discrimination, according to Shaun Fletcher, professor of sports communication at San Jose State University.
The Department said in a statement that it would be issuing a separate rule regarding Title IX mandates that apply to school athletics.
Female college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are at three times the risk of being subjected to sexual assault compared to the national average, according to the advocacy group RAINN.
That includes about one in four female undergraduate students. Only one in five female students reported their assaults to law enforcement. Male college students in the same age group are 78% more likely than their peers who are not students to be subjected to some form of sexual assault or misconduct.
Nicole Ndumele, senior vice president for Rights and Justice at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, praised the Biden administration’s proposed changes.
“By broadening the definition of sexual harassment and clarifying evidentiary requirements schools should follow, the rule ensures that the rights, safety, and dignity of survivors is an imperative that all schools must respect, not just those with a fidelity to justice,” she said.
The protections that extend to include sexual orientation and gender identity come at a time when high schoolers and members of Gen Z over the age of 18 are more likely than any other group to identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
A report issued this month by the the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that young people in the US were more likely than any other age group to identify as transgender or nonbinary.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.