Transgender Bathroom Directive Prompts Lawsuit from 11 States

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Eleven states have sued the Obama administration over its sweeping directive urging all public school districts to grant transgender students access to bathrooms that correspond with their preferred gender identity.

The Obama administration argues that sex discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, two pieces of legislation that deal with discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Texas became the latest state to join the resistance against the Obama administration’s efforts. Other states pursuing legal action, as reported by Emma Margolin of NBC News, include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. All but two of the states suing the White House are run by Republican governors.

“Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” the complaint says.

The legal action is the latest chapter of an ongoing standoff between the federal government and the state of North Carolina, which passed a law in March banning transgender people from using public facilities that coincide with their gender identities. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton came to North Carolina’s defense by accusing the Obama administration of overstepping its authority, and Texas Governor Gregg Abbott accused President Obama of acting like a king after the directive was disseminated.

For its part, the federal government has defended its actions. The government says that a school has an obligation “to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents or community members raise objections or concerns.” Officials added that “the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

According to reporters for The New York Times, Texas has long played the role of leading the resistance against the Obama administration. The state has fought President Obama on immigration, healthcare, and energy policy. As soon as the Obama administration issued the directive concerning transgender rights, Texas state officials began railing against the policy, and a small district in North Texas enacted a policy requiring students to use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.

Immediately, civil rights groups and transgender advocates raised questions about the lawsuit’s prospects.“I see it as a political stunt, and a really unfortunate one because it’s at the expense of transgender people, including transgender youth all across the country,” said James D. Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer. “They’re acting as though the Obama administration’s guidance that came out a few weeks ago is like the first time that anyone has interpreted federal bans on sex discrimination to cover transgender people.”

If it proceeds, the litigation in Texas could push the issue of transgender rights to the United States Supreme Court, which would then rule whether existing laws forbid gender and sex discrimination.