Obama: Schools Must Allow Transgender Bathroom Access

| by Robert Fowler
President Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama

The Obama administration has issued a guidance to all U.S. public schools, making it clear to staff that they will be in violation of Title IX if they do not allow transgender students to use restrooms and facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

The guidance was sent May 13, formulated by the Department of Education (DoED) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

While it does not impose any new laws, the guidance specifies that public schools which do not treat transgender students according to their gender identity could lose federal funding under the already existing Title IX, according to the Associated Press.

“We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence,” said Education Secretary John B. King in a statement.

Once a parent or guardian alerts a school that a student’s gender identity differs from their birth certificate records, school officials will be obligated to treat the student as such. The student will not be required to seek a mental diagnosis or documentation of their gender preference.

The guidance states that while all students can be given a single-restroom accommodation, transgender students cannot be forced into such an arrangement. They will be allowed to use a public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, even if others complain.

In addition to the guidance, public schools have received a 25-page booklet that explains to school officials how to sensitively and positively interact with transgender students, as well as protect the privacy of all students.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin hailed the move as a victory for LGBT civil rights.

“This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by the their teachers and schools,” Griffin said.

The Obama administration issued the guidance amid national controversy over a law passed in North Carolina, which mandated that state residents must use public restrooms that correspond with the physical gender on their birth certificate.

The DOJ has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina for violating civil rights. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina has filed a dueling lawsuit, accusing the DOJ of “baseless and blatant overreach.”

The guidance is expected to be challenged in courts across the country. The Obama administration’s leverage over public schools that may not wish to comply is Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.

By broadening that definition to gender, the guidance could be overturned in court, according to NPR.

On May 9, a CNN/ORC Poll found that 57 percent of Americans oppose laws like the one North Carolina is enforcing, while only 38 percent are supportive.

Sources: Associated Press, CNN,  NPR / Photo credit: U.S. Embassy London/Flickr

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