Equity & Diversity

11 States Sue Feds Over Transgender Student Guidance

By Evie Blad — May 25, 2016 2 min read
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Eleven states joined a lawsuit against federal officials and agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, Wednesday, seeking to overturn recent Obama administration guidance that instructed schools to give transgender students access to the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth.

The federal agencies’ assertion that Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination also applies to gender identity is incorrect, says the complaint filed by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Utah, along with a few local school districts.

“Plaintiffs include a diverse coalition of States, top State officials, and local school districts, spanning from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, and from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Isle, that stand behind the singular principle that the solemn duty of the Federal Executive is to enforce the law of the land, and not rewrite it by administrative fiat,” the suit says. “Defendants have 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 commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights. Defendants’ rewriting of Title VII and Title IX is wholly incompatible with Congressional text. Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, Defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation.”

While the guidance won praise from a variety of educational and student advocacy groups, it has faced opposition from governors around the country, who have encouraged their schools to defy the directive. The charge to file the multi-state suit was led by officials in Texas, who have said the state is willing to lose billions of dollars in federal education funding as a result of its defiance.

The federal interpretations of Title IX and Title VII, which relates to employment protections, are already the subject of dueling lawsuits in North Carolina, which passed the first state-level restrictions on transgender restroom use in public buildings, including schools earlier this year. A panel of judges on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the federal interpretation of Title IX as valid, though the Virginia school district at the heart of that ruling has filed an appeal, asking the whole court to consider the issue.

In other areas of federal law, such as the Violence Against Women Act, sex and gender identity are mentioned as two discrete categories, so its unreasonable to assume lawmakers for the mention of sex in Title IX to encompass both, the states’ suit contends.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.