Destin Cramer, left, and Noah Rice place a sticker on the door at the opening of a gender neutral toilet at Nathan Hale high school in Seattle. Photo / AP
Eleven American states and state officials filed a lawsuit challenging Barack Obama’s Administration over federal guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identities.
The federal lawsuit, filed in the US
District Court for the Northern District of Texas, states that the guidance “has no basis in law” and could cause “seismic changes in the operations of the nation’s school districts”.
State officials have hinted they might file a legal challenge since the Obama Administration released a letter earlier this month from the Justice Department and the Education Department that the federal agencies said was in response to questions from schools around the country.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney-General Loretta Lynch said in a statement when the letter was released.
In that letter, the two agencies cited Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination at educational facilities that receive federal funding, and said that this extended to how schools treat transgender students. The lawsuit filed today argues that the Obama Administration was “officially foisting its new version of federal law” on schools and accuses federal officials of seeking “to rewrite Title IX by executive fiat”.”This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
This lawsuit – which bears the names of nine states as well as a governor and another state’s education department – is the first filed in response to the Administration’s letter. Although some politicians, parents, elected officials and school districts embraced the directive, others aggressively argued against it and said the Administration was overstepping its authority.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott almost immediately said his state would fight the letter because Obama is “not a king”. Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney-General, accused Obama of trying to “bully Texas schools into allowing men to have open access to girls in bathrooms” and vowed a legal fight.
Last week, Paxton and the attorneys-general from Oklahoma and West Virginia wrote to the agencies that issued the guidance questioning whether states could lose federal funding if they don’t comply. Joy Hofmeister, the state education chief in Oklahoma, had been among those who immediately objected after the guidance was released, calling it “disturbing” and saying it carried “an implicit threat of loss of federal funds”.
Paxton argued today that the lawsuit was needed to protect Texas schools, saying that they face losing federal money “for simply following common-sense policies that protect their students”. Senator Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, expressed their support for the suit.
Jeff Landry, the attorney general for Louisiana, who also signed on to the lawsuit, said he would “not allow Washington to wreak further havoc on our schools”. Patrick Morrisey, Attorney-General for West Virginia, another participant, echoed the lawsuit’s language in saying the federal guidance “forces a seismic shift in local schools.”
Federal officials said they still had to review the lawsuit.
“While the department will review the complaint, the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans,” the Justice Department said.
The American Civil Liberties Union assailed the lawsuit as “a political stunt,” saying that the agencies listed in the suit have not changed any existing obligations under the law.
“This lawsuit is an attack from eleven states on transgender Americans, plain and simple,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and HIV Project, said in a statement. “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.”
Texas is joined in this latest lawsuit by Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as the Arizona Department of Education and Maine Governor Paul LePage. In addition, the Harrold school district and another small district in Arizona were included.