A federal judge in Tennessee has granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from enforcing expanded LGBTQ+ protections within its interpretation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools. The injunction also temporarily blocks enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s anti-discrimination guidance for LGBTQ+ workers.
The plaintiffs, led by the state of Tennessee, include several other states where anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans bills have gone into effect, including Alabama, Indiana and South Dakota. They argue that such an interpretation of Title IX would keep them from enforcing school sports bans for transgender students — preventing trans girls from playing with other girls — since those laws conflict with the administration’s anti-discrimination mandate.
The states also argue that Bostock v. Clayton County, the landmark 2020 Supreme Court case that found LGBTQ+ people are protected against work discrimination, does not extend to Title IX protections. But the Justice Department says that it does. Bostock has been invoked by civil rights groups as an important backbone for advancing protections for LGBTQ+ people. According to the ACLU, which was counsel in two of the cases that made up the final decision, at least 250 cases have cited Bostock since the ruling two years ago.
The injunction — and the lawsuit behind it — is another example of the Biden administration’s broader LGBTQ+ policy goals being derailed by rhetoric against transgender rights, particularly state-level efforts to bar trans students from playing sports that align with their gender identity. House and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Equality Act in recent years have devolved into debates over trans sports bans instead of the actual text of the bill.
The Education Department’s proposed Title IX interpretation — still under public comment and not yet finalized — would expand anti-discrimination rules to include sexual orientation and gender identity, formally protecting LGBTQ+ students. The EEOC’s non-binding guidance following Bostock advises LGBTQ+ employees to seek charges if their rights — such as the ability for trans women to use the women’s restroom — are violated by an employer.
The injunction was granted by Judge Charles Atchley, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. Atchley wrote in his order on Friday that the preliminary injunction will stay in effect pending further decisions from his federal district court, or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, or the Supreme Court.
Core to the lawsuit is states’ view that the federal anti-discrimination policies would interfere in their ability to enact their own laws relating to bathroom access or the ability to participate in youth sports. Bathroom bills, like the one that recently took effect in Alabama, require transgender and nonbinary students to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity.
Ten of the 20 states in the lawsuit have directly tied a link between their own such laws potentially being threatened by the administration’s anti-discrimination guidance, Atchley wrote.
The states say they are currently under pressure by the Education Department’s Title IX interpretation — although the rule isn’t yet codified — as well as the EEOC’s guidance because the documents put “substantial pressure” on them to change their laws, the judge wrote.
Through a spokesperson, the Education Department said it is disappointed in the judge’s decision, but the agency is “committed to protecting students and school communities from discrimination and will continue to do so to deliver on the promise of Title IX.”
The EEOC said it would comply with court orders and declined to comment further, referring questions to the Justice Department. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.