The US president has removed federal guidelines on the use of restrooms for transgender students. Critics have lashed out at the White House's move, saying it puts children at risk of harassment and abuse.
US President Donald Trump revoked a federal directive on Wednesday that instructed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice or risk losing federal funds. That means that a transgender person with a female birth certificate, but who identifies as male, might have to use the women's restroom.
Former US President Barack Obama had sent a directive to public schools in May 2016, threatening to withhold federal funding if they forced transgender children to use bathrooms of a certain gender against their will.
The Obama directive was based on the determination that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in education, also applied to gender identity. Shortly after it was issued, a federal judge in Texas put a temporary hold on the guidance when 13 states sued.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was pressed to act because of the pending US Supreme Court case, G.G. versus Gloucester County School Board, in which a Virginia transgender student, Gavin Grimm, was fighting against officials who want to deny him use of the boys' room at his high school.
Trump's move also withdrew an Education Department letter in support of Grimm's case.
With federal guidelines now lifted, states and school districts can decide whether students should have access to bathrooms that do not reflect their biological sex.
"This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find - and in many cases have found - solutions that protect all students."
Spicer said Trump "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."
In a letter to the nation's schools, the Justice and Education departments said the earlier guidance "has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms."
'Violates right to privacy'
Conservative activists celebrated the lifting, saying the Obama directives were illegal and violated the rights of other students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using toilets 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."
However, even that position has been disputed - for instance on the basis that many transgender people with a female birth certificate but a markedly male appearance and physique may now be forced into girls' restrooms.
Protests in Washington
Critics also argue that it poses serious risks to transgender students by placing them in sensitive environments that they do not identify with.
"Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it's okay with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Grimm, from the Supreme Court case, told news agency Associated Press: "It's not positive. It has the possibility of hurting transgender students and transgender people. We're going to keep fighting like we have been and keep fighting for the right thing."
Activists protested the move Wednesday outside the White House.
aw/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)