The US government has issued a directive telling public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Some state leaders have already vowed to forego federal funds rather than comply.
Transgender students in public schools must be permitted to use locker rooms and bathrooms which correspond to their gender identity, the Obama administration announced on Friday in an official, nationwide "guidance."
"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 accompanying the directive, which was distributed to school districts on Friday.
The guidance is meant to clarify expectations for schools that receive federal funding on how to comply with Title IX, an education provision which prohibits sex discrimination, according to Education Secretary John King.
"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," King said.
Although the directive is nonbinding, schools which do not comply could potentially face lawsuits or reduced federal funds.
On Monday, the Justice Department sued the state of North Carolina over its bathroom access law which requires transgender people to use bathroom facilities which correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The Obama administration said the law violated civil rights.
Backlash from conservatives
The decree sparked immediate outrage from conservative politicians in Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi - among others.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick in Texas vowed that his state was ready to forfeit billions of dollars in federal funds - most of it for free meal programs for students from financially disadvantaged families - rather than comply with the federal directive.
"Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not yield to blackmail from the president of the United States. ... We will not sell out our children to the federal government," Patrick told reporters.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory called the move a "massive executive branch overreach, which clearly oversteps constitutional authority."
Rights groups praise directive
Many rights groups and parents of transgender students welcomed the Obama administration directive, with the LGBTQ Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calling it "groundbreaking."
"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 their teachers and schools," HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
"It's heartbreaking that these kids are losing their lives because they can't be accepted," Hope Tyler, who has a transgender son at a Raleigh high school, said in reference to suicides among transgender people - those whose gender identity or gender expression does not correlate to the sex they were assigned at birth.
"Somebody has to speak for the kids."
rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)