In the Transgender Bathroom Fight, Betsy DeVos Nearly Had a Moment of Integrity

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In the Transgender Bathroom Fight, Betsy DeVos Nearly Had a Moment of Integrity

As you’ve probably read by now, Trump and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions have teamed up to roll back the rights of transgender students. Per the NYT:

In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

That directive, they said, was improperly and arbitrarily devised, “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

Along with being a totally heinous act of cruelty and discrimination, it is also, of course, ridiculous: You will now have extremely male-looking transgender students using women’s bathrooms, and vice versa. But aside from the ugliness of the policy itself, there was a fascinating political subplot to the whole saga: Education secretary Betsy DeVos almost held up the whole process. She nearly even had a moment of integrity. It started as an in-fight between her and Sessions:

The question of how to address the “bathroom debate,” as it has become known, opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions, who had been expected to move quickly to roll back the civil rights expansions put in place under his Democratic predecessors, wanted to act decisively because of two pending court cases that could have upheld the protections and pushed the government into further litigation.

But Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.

Frankly, I have to say that this far more than I ever expected from a woman who essentially bought her post with donations to conservative politicians, and once said that she intended to “advance God’s kingdom” through education. She actually stood up to Sessions when he pushed back against her initial reluctance, and even forced him to go running to Trump, but that’s when her principled stand came to a sad end:

Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.

Ah, yes. Because, you see, if you truly believe in something, and people in power stubbornly resist you, there comes a time when you have to put your money where your mouth is and make your opposition public. That’s where DeVos’ backbone failed her—resigning was a step too far.

And so, the floodgates are open for discrimination and violence against transgender students. It’s another chapter in two very common stories: In one, far-right politicians take action that will make any reasonable person’s stomach churn. In the other, their more moderate counterparts some so very close to doing the right thing, before deciding that power means more than principle.

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