Metro Weekly

Court hears lawsuit over federal guidance on transgender students

States ask for court order to stop the Obama administration from forcing schools to adopt pro-transgender policies

Earl Cabell Federal Building in Dallas, including the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Photo: Google Maps
Earl Cabell Federal Building in Dallas, including the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Photo: Google Maps

On Friday, a federal judge heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by several states over the Obama administration’s stance on transgender rights. The case, Texas v. United States, targets the federal government’s interpretation that sex discrimination laws apply to transgender people who are discriminated against because of their gender identity.

Earlier this spring, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education recommended that schools treat transgender students according to their gender identity, including being allowed to use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

In response, the state of Texas, along 12 other states, sued to stop the Obama administration from implementing or applying pressure on local school districts to adopt policies that conform with the guidance.

In their initial complaint, the plaintiffs, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued that the Obama administration had “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.”

They argue that only Congress or state legislatures have the power to amend nondiscrimination laws to include transgender people, and must do so explicitly if they wish to extend those protections to that community.

The lawsuit also challenges various federal agencies, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for their overly broad interpretation of language preventing sex discrimination in statutes like Title IX, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The states argue that this has led the federal government to wrongly suggest that transgender people should be allowed access to facilities that match their gender identity, even if their biological sex at birth does not match.

In addition, the federal government also faces a separate but almost identical lawsuit from 10 other states challenging pro-transgender interpretation of various statutes.

Five civil rights organizations are standing with the government, arguing that the court should reject the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and allow individual school districts to create and implement their own policies that comply with the guidance. The organizations — Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas, Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders — issued a joint statement all but implying the states’ lawsuit is a political stunt.

“Texas and 12 other states, governors of states and political jurisdictions have filed a meritless lawsuit against multiple federal agencies seeking to preserve the ability to discriminate against a highly vulnerable population — transgender elementary and high school students and transgender employees,” the statement reads. “We are urging this court to protect transgender students and workers and allow them to enjoy a safe and discrimination-free education and workplace. We filed an amicus brief in this case because we oppose the efforts of state officials to manipulate the federal court system in order to skirt well-established law in their home circuits that affirms and respects the rights of transgender students and employees.”

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