Once again, tech companies are again finding themselves in the midst of a culture war in response to action by the Trump administration.
On Wednesday, the administration rescinded guidance for transgender students in public schools, repealing a similar letter which the Obama administration had issued in May 2016 to allow those students to use school facilities that conform with their gender identity. The new joint letter, issued by the Justice Department and the Department of Education, ultimately turns the implementation of non-discrimination policies for transgender students over to the states.
Apple, the world’s most prominent company led by a member of the LGBTQ community, was among the first to speak out. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Apple denounces the joint action:
“Apple believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination. We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections.”
Google provided a similar statement:
“We’ve long advocated for policies that provide equal rights and treatment for all. We’re deeply concerned to see a roll-back in transgender students’ rights.”
Other executives, including Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, are speaking out on Twitter:
While it might not be immediately apparent why tech companies would want to speak out on federal guidance affecting schools, many of them, including Apple, have programs that serve educators and school specifically. But in a broader sense, these companies appear to realize that the friction over transgender student protections taps into a wider issue of symbolic discrimination that affects employees and business alike.
In 2016, tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM spoke out against North Carolina’s HB2, which blocked local jurisdictions from passing their own LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Similar bills could proliferate in light of the Trump administration’s actions, which encourage states to handle the issue of transgender rights. After a stint of early silence, tech companies are increasingly taking a stand on some of political flare-ups coming out of the Trump White House, and this appears to be the latest flash point.
While the Trump administration argues that this letter is being issued “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved,” the message is resoundingly clear for transgender individuals who could look to the former guidance as a form of federal protection for often fraught practical issues, like using the bathroom or locker room with which they identity. Beyond the symbolic meaning of the guidance, those scenarios can give rise to an environment of harassment and even violence for transgender people, already one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States.
We have reached out to a number of major tech companies about their position on leaving issues of LGBTQ discrimination to the states and will update this story as we receive additional statements.
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