WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration will revoke federal guidelines that tell public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity, the White House said Wednesday.
The decision would be a reversal of an Obama-era directive advising public schools to grant bathroom access to students in line with their expressed gender identity and not necessarily the gender on their birth certificate.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the previous administration’s guidelines were confusing and hard to implement and that new directives would be issued later in the day. A government official with direct knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press that the Obama-era guidance would be rescinded, though anti-bullying safeguards would not be affected. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the plans and did so on condition of anonymity.
Although the Obama guidance carried no force of law, transgender rights advocates say it was necessary to protect students from discrimination. Opponents argued it was overreach and said it violated the safety and privacy of all other students.
Spicer said that the Departments of Justice and Education were working together on the new document.
“The president has made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer in states’ rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level,” Spicer said.
The Obama administration’s guidance was based on its determination that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education and activities, also applies to gender identity.
While not legally binding, the guidance sent a warning that schools could lose funding if they did not comply.
Republicans have pushed back, arguing that the federal effort was an example of the Obama administration meddling in state and local matters. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick equated it to “blackmail” and said at the time that the state was ready to forfeit federal education money rather than comply.
A federal judge in Texas put a temporary hold on the Obama guidance in August after 13 states sued the administration.
The Trump administration’s decision to revoke the guidelines was first reported by The Washington Post. The reversal would be a major setback for transgender rights groups, which had been urging Trump to keep the safeguards in place. Advocates said federal law will still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation. Still, they said, lifting the Obama directive puts children in harm’s way.
“By rescinding these protections, the Trump administration is compromising the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable children,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”
Conservative activists hailed the change, saying the directives were illegal and violated the rights of fixed gender students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using restroom next to anatomical males.
“Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues,” said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy. “It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity.”
Legal experts said the change in position could impact pending court cases involving the federal sex discrimination law, including a case set to be heard by the Supreme Court in March, involving a transgender teen who was denied bathroom access in Virginia.
The justices could decide not to hear the case and direct lower courts to decide that issue.
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