Equity & Diversity

Okla. Lawmakers Propose Impeachment, Bill in Response to Transgender Guidance

By Evie Blad — May 20, 2016 3 min read
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State-level responses to the Obama administration’s civil rights guidance about transgender students have ranged from praise for the move by some to calls from many governors and attorney generals for schools to ignore the rule.

Among the most dramatic responses was that of Oklahoma Republicans, who filed a resolution in the state’s legislature calling for President Obama’s impeachment for abusing his authority in issuing the directive, the Tulsa World reports. Lawmakers there are also considering a bill they hope would help schools block the rule.

In guidance issued last week, the U.S. departments of Justice and Education asserted that, under Title IX, schools must allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, even if it differs from their biological sex. The guidance does not carry the force of law, rather it outlines how the federal agencies interpret the existing civil rights law.

In many states, legislators have proposed filing bills in current or upcoming sessions to set state restrictions that would limit restroom access in schools by biological sex. Currently, only North Carolina has such a law, which is the subject of a handful of federal lawsuits centered on the federal interpretation of Title IX.

Oklahoma lawmakers took a unique approach, filing a bill that would allow a student to request a shower, athletic changing room or restroom exclusively for use by students of their sex if they could cite “a sincerely held religious belief” objecting to sharing such facilities with transgender students.

Opponents of the bill note that it may create facilities costs for schools, and that the state is already facing a significant education funding shortfall.

School law experts have said schools can allow students who are uncomfortable sharing facilities with transgender peers to use single-stall or staff restrooms instead.

The impeachment resolution calls upon the state’s federal delegation to take action.

According to the Tulsa World:

“Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, are the authors of that [impeachment] measure.

“Oklahomans are simply not going to stand for this utter nonsense,” Bennett said in a news release regarding the directive. “Our phones and emails are being flooded by citizens who are enraged by this President’s attempt to use our children as pawns in a liberal agenda.

“This directive is Biblically wrong, a violation of our state’s sovereignty and it is a serious public safety issue.”

This is clearly just the beginning of the debate over this issue. People on all sides of the debate are carefully watching federal court cases to see if the administration’s interpretation of Title IX holds up under the scrutiny of the courts. Meanwhile, another lawsuit was filed today against schools in Sumner County, Tenn., where the ACLU claims educators have violated the federal guidance by forbidding a transgender student from using the girls’ restroom.

Meanwhile, 23 civil rights groups voiced support for the guidance in a letter to federal officials this week.

“This guidance will provide much-needed clarity to school leaders on how to create safe and affirming learning environments for transgender students, and we commend the administration for clarifying these important civil rights protections under Title IX,” the letter says. “Even more importantly, it will make clear to students and their families that transgender students are entitled to safe and supportive learning environments where they can focus on the work of learning and preparing for adulthood without fear of harassment, exclusion or discrimination based on who they are.”

Related reading on transgender students:

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