Metro Weekly

11 states sue the Obama administration over transgender guidance to schools

Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and others aren't happy about trans student restroom guidance

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (Photo: Matt Gagnon, via Wikimedia).

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (Photo: Matt Gagnon, via Wikimedia).

Eleven states are pushing back against the Obama administration’s guidance for schools on how to treat transgender students. They’re lodging a lawsuit over provisions that direct schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and changing facilities that match their gender identities.

The lawsuit specifically names the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as defendants. It was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Texas, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post, and alleges that the proposed guidance “has no basis in law.” It also accuses the Obama administration of trying to rewrite the nation’s laws “by administrative fiat.”

“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 common-sense policies protecting children and privacy rights,” the complaint reads. “Defendants’ rewriting of Title VII and Title IX is wholly incompatible with Congressional text. Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, Defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation.”

Plaintiffs include the Independent School District of Harrold, Texas, as well as the states of Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia, the Arizona Department of Education, the Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Heber, Ariz, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

They claim that both Title VII and Title IX only deal with sex discrimination as it has been traditionally viewed: dealing with discrimination based on a person’s biological sex as assigned at birth, and not their gender identity.

Thus, they claim the Obama administration’s attempt to justify its guidance by interpreting Title VII and Title IX as applicable to transgender individuals is wrong-headed.

The lawsuit is the latest in a back-and-forth fight between the federal government and states over the transgender rights. The Obama administration is currently in the midst of another lawsuit against the state of North Carolina over HB 2, part of which restricts transgender people to use only those facilities that correspond to their biological sex at birth.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has mounted its own lawsuit against HB 2 and has consistently supported the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination laws, blasted the lawsuit as both an attack on transgender Americans and a form of political grandstanding.

“While the Obama administration is being sued, the real targets here are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom,” James Esseks, the director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, said in a statement. “…The federal agencies named in this lawsuit have not changed existing obligations under the law. Our civil rights laws, including Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, have long prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, and federal courts and agencies have long recognized that this includes protections for transgender people.”

The ACLU also noted that there have not been any increases in public safety incidents following pro-transgender decisions issued by courts or pro-transgender policies implemented by state or local governments or school boards.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that one cannot sue an agency just because they disagree with the agency’s guidance,” Esseks added. “If these attorneys general disagree with the agency’s interpretation of what the federal ban on sex discrimination means, they can make that argument to the court when it arises in a real case. This lawsuit is a political stunt.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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