Transgender students at public schools and universities should use the bathrooms that correspond with the gender they identify with, according to a directive from the Obama administration today.
The administration sent letters to school districts across the country.
The guidelines aren’t enforceable by law, but, for districts that don’t follow them, it could mean losing federal dollars.
Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere are vowing to defy the new directive.
The lieutenant governor of Texas says his state is ready to forfeit billions of dollars in federal aid, rather than let the Obama administration dictate restroom policy. And the Republican governor of Arkansas is telling schools to ignore the directive, calling it “social engineering.”
Governors and top leaders in several other conservative states issued sharply worded statements against the guidance but stopped short of telling schools to ignore it. The Republican leader of the North Carolina Senate says, “The last time I checked, the United States is not ruled by a king who can bypass Congress and the courts and force school-age boys and girls to share the same bathrooms and locker rooms.”
But parents of transgender students are welcoming the directive. A woman who has a transgender son at a North Carolina high school says, “Somebody has to speak for the kids.” Referring to suicides among transgender people, she said, “It’s heartbreaking that these kids are losing their lives because they can’t be accepted.”
The guidance is not legally binding. The question of whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people has not been definitively answered by the courts and may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
But schools that refuse to comply could be hit with civil rights lawsuits from the government, and the Obama administration could also try to cut off federal aid to schools to force compliance.