Biden finalizes Title IX rules to boost rights of sexual assault victims, LGBTQ students

The Biden administration on Friday finalized a long-awaited overhaul of Title IX, the decades-old federal law that protects students from sex- and gender-based discrimination.

The rules will reverse Trump-era policies that critics say for years have bolstered the rights of people accused of sexual assault on school campuses. When Joe Biden was running for president, he described his predecessors’ Title IX regulations as a "green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights.”

Under the new policy, colleges will be allowed to use a lower standard to find someone guilty of sexual misconduct. The federal government will also raise its expectations of schools across the country by requiring them to quickly respond to all types of sex-based discrimination – not just to sexual harassment, which is the current threshold.

And colleges will do away with a controversial requirement for live hearings, including potentially traumatic cross-examinations between victims and those they accuse of sex-based misconduct.

It’s a change that victims' rights advocates have been eagerly pushing since Biden took office. The rule spent years wading through government red tape – it still hasn’t fully cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles – and was announced months after the Education Department originally said it would be finalized.

Demanding 'immediate action': Biden promised to reform Title IX. Students are tired of waiting

The regulations will officially expand the rights of LGBTQ students and staff, setting in stone definitions that will protect people who identify as queer and transgender from harassment or discrimination in any school that receives federal funding. Pregnant students will be better protected under the new rules, too.

On a call with reporters Thursday, top Education Department officials hailed the changes as the most comprehensive reforms of Title IX since the decades-old law was passed.

“Under today’s regulations, schools will have to do enough to end sex discrimination," said Catherine Lhamon, the agency’s assistant secretary for civil rights, "giving complete effect to the Title IX guarantee that no person shall experience sex discrimination at school."

The regulations will take effect Aug. 1, the Education Department said, and will apply to complaints that occurred on or after that date.

The announcement fulfills one of Biden’s key campaign promises – though not until the tail end of his first term. While opponents of the Trump-era rules have praised the Biden administration for moving to reverse them, frustration at the government's pace has soured even supporters of the president's efforts. Depending on the outcome of the general election this November, a potential second Trump term would likely start the process of reversing the standards mere months after they take effect.

Emma Grasso Levine, a senior manager with the survivor-led advocacy group Know Your IX, commended the administration on Friday, but warned colleges now have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.

"Now, it’s up to school administrators to act quickly to implement and enforce the updated guidance" Levine said. "Student survivors of sexual violence, LGBTQ+ students, and pregnant and parenting students cannot afford to suffer any longer under policies that jeopardize their right to an education."

Many Republicans in Washington, including Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., have taken to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in their criticisms of Biden's approach to Title IX. The conservative congresswoman on Friday accused the president of attempting to “radically redefine sex and gender.”

That complicated dynamic demonstrates how much of a "political football" the landmark 1972 law has become. In recent years, the statute's politicization has thrust the staff who enforce it at schools across the country into a state of whiplash, while students, especially those from marginalized groups, remain caught in the middle.

Trans athlete rules still in limbo

The Biden administration is also separately aiming to curtail schools’ abilities to prevent transgender athletes from competing in sports. In a different rule released last April, officials suggested a nuanced approach to allowing trans students to play on teams consistent with their gender identity, with some exceptions.

That rule is still in bureaucratic limbo, and Friday’s announcement left questions about the administration's plans for the other timeline unanswered.

The involvement of transgender students in school sports has become a politically salient culture-war issue in recent years amid a broader conservative-led campaign to restrict the rights of people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.

As he seeks to oust Biden this fall, former President Donald Trump has latched on to the topic, ranting about his disdain for trans athletes at his rallies.

When asked Thursday whether concerns about the election have influenced the timeline for the regulation on trans athletes, the Education Department declined to comment.

Zachary Schermele covers education and breaking news for USA TODAY. You can reach him by email at Follow him on X at @ZachSchermele.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden finalizes long-awaited overhaul of Title IX rules