When the Obama administration sent out guidelines to every public-school district in the nation concerning the treatment of transgender students, it did so with the assumption that Title IX — a law that forbids government-funded institutions from sex-based discrimination — includes discrimination based on gender identity. The letter, said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, was issued at the behest of school administrators and was designed to give them, “teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
Although the letter isn’t legally binding, it ever so delicately suggests that schools that don’t comply could lose their federal funding. And it’s that aspect that led 11 states and state representatives to file a lawsuit against the federal government on Wednesday accusing it of overreach and — in the words of Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick — “blackmail.”
The suit’s plaintiffs include nine states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — as well as the governor of Maine, the Arizona Department of Education, and school districts in Arizona and Texas. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
According to the New York Times, the lawsuit asks the court to block the Obama administration from “implementing, applying, or enforcing the new rules, regulations and guidance interpretations.” It claims that by issuing the letter, the federal government had “conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over common-sense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”
It also takes issue with the government’s interpretation of Title IX, referencing one passage from the letter in particular, which states:
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. 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.”
By lumping transgender students in with requirements of “nondiscrimination on the basis of sex,” the suit claims the Obama administration is “officially foisting its new version of federal law” on schools and attempting “to rewrite Title IX” to include gender identity “by executive fiat.” But Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, told the Times that “the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans.”
Texas governor Greg Abbott said during a news conference that his state joined the suit to protect Harrold Independent School District, where the board just passed a policy similar to North Carolina’s requiring students to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate. “[Now] the district is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration, which claims it will punish anyone that doesn’t comply with their orders,” Abbott said.
Patrick’s condemnation was a little more enthusiastic: “[Obama] says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy,” he said earlier this month. “Well in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not yield to blackmail from the president of the United States.”
If Democrats are trying to fracture the Republican Party (and expose its most vehement bigots) through bathroom-baiting, it seems to be working.