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‘Betsy DeVos, how do you sleep at night?’ LGBTQ advocates project data on Education Department building

The Human Rights Campaign projected a message to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on the U.S. Department of Education building on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Washington. (Kevin Wolf / AP)
By Valerie Strauss Washington Post

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos apparently wasn’t around to see it, but a message to her was projected on the Education Department’s headquarters in Washington about policy on LGBTQ youth, asking, “How do you sleep at night?”

The Human Rights Campaign, with artist Robin Bell, displayed data Wednesday night from a recently released survey revealing experiences of about 12,000 LGBTQ teens, taking aim at Trump administration policies that advocates say have targeted these young people.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The survey was conducted by the Human Rights Campaign – the largest civil rights organization working in the United States to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people – and University of Connecticut researchers. Teens ages 13 to 17 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were surveyed.

Among the data it found and projected on the department are:

  • 70 percent of LGBTQ teens surveyed said they were bullied at school.
  • 95 percent reported having trouble sleeping at night because of anxiety.
  • 26 percent said they always feel safe in their classrooms.
  • 5 percent said all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people.

The Trump administration has rescinded Obama-era protections for the LGBTQ community, rolling back or freezing anti-discrimination rules against these Americans in health, education and other areas. DeVos’s first major policy act upon becoming education secretary last year was to support President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s guidance protecting the right of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

DeVos has repeatedly said schools that take federal funds should follow federal law (though she has sometimes been confused about exactly what those are in relation to education). There are no direct protections for LGBTQ Americans in federal law, however.

At a hearing Tuesday before the House Education Committee, DeVos said she could not act on transgender civil rights because there are mixed court opinions. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., asked her about her commitment to protecting transgender students’ rights, noting that two court cases support protecting them from discrimination.

DEVOS: I think part of what you have referred to, with regard to transgender students, is courts have been mixed on that and this body has not opined or updated or addressed that.

POLIS: Those are two precedents that stand. …

DEVOS: Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I’m not going to make up law from the Department of Education.

A Human Rights Campaign release quoted Ellen Kahn, its director of children, youth and families programs, saying:

“Betsy DeVos has spent the last year and a half relentlessly attacking the rights of transgender students, youth of color, survivors of sexual assault and students with disabilities. While these survey results underscore the challenges facing LGBTQ youth, it also reflects their perseverance and strength in the face of bullies – whether in their classrooms or the federal government. Given the disastrous and dangerous actions of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the question must be asked of everyone in this administration, ‘How do you sleep at night?’ ”