A gay lawyer has said he was fired from the US Department of Education (DoE) because he acted as a whistleblower and leaked anti-trans Trump administration emails.
Dwayne Bensing was a lawyer for the Office of Civil Rights within the DoE and had worked for the federal government for more than five years.
In the summer of 2019, the SPLC-designated anti-LGBT+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a complaint with the DoE.
The group alleged that a Connecticut policy which allowed trans student athletes to compete on teams that align with their gender was unfair, and that it discriminated against cisgender women. It argued that the policy violated Title IX, which prevents sex discrimination in education programmes.
ADF was also behind the spread of anti-trans “bathroom bills” in 2017, which sought to stop trans Americans accessing bathrooms that correspond with their gender.
By August, according to HuffPost, the Office of Civil Rights was already moving forward with the anti-trans complaint, despite it usually taking months of deliberation to decide on a course of action for such a divisive issue.
Bensing said he soon discovered emails that showed that even as the case the case was being initiated, attorneys were unsure of the legal theory. He also found evidence that Ken Marcus, the head of the Office of Civil Rights, was pressuring employees to push the case through quickly.
When he realised that the office head was involved, he took the emails and leaked them to The Washington Blade. He told HuffPost: “It was just more than abnormal; it was against everything we do.”
Around a month later, Bensing was confronted by his bosses and confessed to leaking the emails, but explained he felt obligated to expose the “partisan overreach”, “abuse of power” and the “violation of law and procedures”.
He said: “Nowhere has it said treating these students according to their gender identity is a violation of Title IX.
“This was a major shift in the interpretation of Title IX, which is in violation of recent court precedent.”
The Whistleblower Protection Act protects people from retaliation by their employers if they disclose government information that they believe shows a violation of rules, laws or regulations or an abuse of authority, as long as that information is not a risk to national security.
But by September, Bensing had been given administrative duties and in December it was proposed that he be removed from federal service.
Randolph E Wills, deputy assistant secretary of education, wrote in a letter to the gay lawyer: “Your duties require that you regularly handle sensitive, deliberative information that may also contain personally identifiable information.
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“As a result of your unauthorized release of this information, I have lost trust in your judgment and ability to perform your assigned duties.”
Bensing told HuffPost that he did not include any identifiable information, but Wills added: “[Your] failure to express any remorse leads me to believe you lack the potential for rehabilitation.”
He was told he would have the opportunity to respond, but decided to resign three days later.
He said: “They care more about harming students than they do about protecting their career civil servants… This wasn’t some ambiguous thing to me.
“I knew these students and cared for them.”
Bensing is now an attorney for ACLU of Delaware.