The fight over transgender rights and continuing forms of discrimination has manifested itself in America’s bathrooms. A number of laws, notably in North Carolina, have tried to tie bathroom usage to an individual’s birth gender. That is problematic for transgender individuals and the Department of Justice informed North Carolina lawmakers last week it is also discriminatory. The state hit back and the issue has morphed into a political issue in this election year. The Obama administration, however, has decided not to wait for states to enact or enforce measures to protect the transgender community and will address the bathroom issue head-on by ordering every public school district in the U.S. to allow students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identity, not their birth gender.
The announcement will be made in the form of a letter to every school district in America that will be distributed on Friday, the New York Times reports. The move will not carry with it the force of law, but the letter clearly implies noncompliance will bring with it the threat of legal action and potentially the loss of federal education funding that states rely on.
Here’s more on what’s in the letter from the New York Times:
“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” according to the letter, a copy of which was provided to the New York Times. A school’s obligation under federal law “to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns,” the letter states. “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”
As soon as a child’s parent or legal guardian asserts a gender identity for the student that “differs from previous representations or records,” the letter says, the child is to be treated accordingly — without any requirement for a medical diagnosis or birth certificate to be produced. It says that schools may — but are not required to — provide other restroom and locker room options to students who seek “additional privacy” for whatever reason. Attached to the letter, the Obama administration will include a 25-page document describing “emerging practices” that are already in place in many schools around the country. Those included installing privacy curtains or allowing students to change in bathroom stalls.