Donald Trump Says Transgender Bathroom Issue Should Be Left to the States. Will That Be Enough for Social Conservatives?

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Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Charleston, WV
"Transgender rights for some, states' rights for others."Photo: Mark Lyons/2016 Getty Images

Last month, Donald Trump said that transgender people should be able to “use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate.” Ted Cruz pounced on the remark, praying that this display of “New York values” would be enough to turn the GOP base against the mogul. He spent the final weeks of his campaign (essentially) shouting, “Donald Trump wants to make it easier for grown men to molest your daughters.” And then Trump won the Evangelical vote in Indiana, Cruz suspended his campaign to spend more time elbowing his family, and America enjoyed a two-week respite from national politicians demagoguing transgender issues.

But on Thursday night, the transgender bathroom controversy returned to the national spotlight, as the Obama administration issued a directive instructing every public school in the country to allow its students to use the restroom that comports with their gender identity. The directive does not have the force of law, but it comes with the implicit threat that federal funding could be cut off to noncompliant schools.

Social conservatives were not pleased.

We will not sell out our children to the federal government,” Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick told reporters Friday. “This is a modern-day, come-and-take-it issue, and the president of the United States, like the superintendent of Fort Worth, is not coming and taking our children.”

The superintendent of the public-school system in Port Neches-Groves, Texas, was similarly defiant.

I got news for President Barack Obama,” superintendent Rodney Canvass told 12News. “He ain’t my President and he can’t tell me what to do. That letter is going straight to the paper shredder. I have 5 daughters myself and I have 2,500 girls in my protection. Their moms and dads expect me to protect them. And that is what I am going to do.”

Iowa Republican congressmen Peter King said he would likely hold hearings on this latest act of “executive overreach.”

The party’s standard-bearer also came out against the measure — but in decidedly milder terms.

I think this should be a states’ issue. It’s become a huge story and yet it affects — and everybody has to be protected, if it’s one person — but it’s a tiny, tiny portion of the population, and it’s become a massive story,” Trump told Fox & Friends. “I think there should be a states’ issue.”

As to the merits of the issue — whether it is appropriate for public-school students to select bathrooms on the basis of gender identity rather than biological sex — Trump refused to take a position.

It’s a new issue,” Trump said. “Right now I just don’t have an opinion.”

If Trump is able to maintain that neutrality in the coming months, it will be a testament to how far the national debate over LGBT issues has shifted, four short years after the Democratic president declared his support for same-sex marriage.