On Feb. 22, President Trump repealed the Obama-era directive that allowed transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, stating that the transgender bathroom policy should be left to the states.
This new directive has angered civil rights activists while pleasing conservative groups. The change in directive by the Trump administration reignites the debate on whether guidance on transgender students’ use of the bathrooms and locker room facilities is a state or federal rights issue.
Last year, the Education and Justice departments said that public schools no longer need to abide by the Obama-era directive instructing them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender.
That guidance, issued in May, led to a spate of lawsuits over how it should be applied, according to a letter from the departments being sent to schools nationwide. Anti-bullying safeguards for students will not be impacted by the change, according to the letter. Transgender rights advocates, meanwhile, are vowing to overcome this major setback.
“We [are] not discouraged at all and we [are] going to keep fighting like we have been and keep fighting for the right thing,” said Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who sued his Virginia high school over its bathroom access policy and whose case is set to be heard by the Supreme Court next month.
On the other hand, conservatives are praising the Trump administration’s rollback of public school bathroom requirements for transgender students, saying the move corrects a legal overreach by the Obama administration that is best left for states to decide.
“This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos added. “Schools, communities and families can find, and in many cases have found, solutions that protect all students.”
Conservative activists who saw it as the Obama administration meddling in local matters praised the change. Wisconsin state Rep. Jesse Kremer said he was pleased by the change but still intends to re-introduce a bill to force public school students to use bathrooms that correspond with their birth gender.
Advocates say federal law will still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation.
“The mother lions in this country are not going to let anything go backward in transgender equality because [it has] been a very hard fight,” said Linda Fishbaugh, the mother of a transgender New Hampshire teenager.
A patchwork of state laws could continue to emerge because of the change. Officials in some states and cities, including Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, Washington State, San Francisco, New York City and the District of Columbia, consider denying transgender people the right to use gender identity-appropriate restrooms as a violation of discrimination laws.
Gay rights groups are clearly upset with this latest directive.
“Such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.