Equity & Diversity

Transgender Students: Feds Say N.C. Law Violates Title IX; Families Sue in Illinois

By Evie Blad — May 04, 2016 3 min read
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The U.S. Department of Justice put North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on notice Wednesday that a new state law that forbids local anti-discrimination ordinances and restricts which restrooms transgender students can use at school violates the federal Civil Rights Act, The Charlotte Observer reports.

The notice, which asks McCrory to remedy the situation by ensuring that the law will not be implemented, came on the same day that a group of Illinois parents and students sued the U.S. Department of Education over its position on transgender students.

Some of the plaintiffs are enrolled in an Illinois district that changed its policies to allow a transgender student access to the girls’ locker room after a public standoff with the Education Department’s office for civil rights. The suit challenges the federal agency’s assertion that Title IX requires schools to allow students to access sex-segregated facilities based on their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth. That assertion was recently upheld as valid by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., a decision that has been challenged by the Virginia school district at the heart of that case.

North Carolina, under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit, is the first state in the country to pass state-level restrictions on transgender students’ access to school facilities. That measure, called HB2, received more national attention for its prohibition of local non-discrimination ordinances, like one that was set to go into effect in the city of Charlotte.

From the Observer:

The department gave state officials until Monday to address the situation "by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2." The letter says HB2, which pre-empted Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance, violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in education based on sex. If that determination is upheld, North Carolina could lose millions in federal school funding. During the current school year, state public schools received $861 million in federal funding."

McCrory has defended the law, insisting that its intent was to preserve consistency across the state, and that it was not passed out of malice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., speaking at a Education Writers Association conference in Boston Monday, said the North Carolina law and another so-called “religious freedom” law passed in Mississippi were “hateful laws that should be repealed.”

The Education Department and the Justice Department have increasingly asserted in recent years that transgender students are entitled to unrestricted access to facilities like school restrooms and locker rooms under Title IX, a position labeled as “federal overreach” by some state and local level policymakers.

The Illinois suit lists as defendants the Education and Justice departments, King, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the board of Township High School District 211 in Illinois.

The suit seeks to stop the Education Department “from continuing to trample students’ privacy and other constitutional and statutory rights by forcing 14- to 17-year-old girls to use locker rooms and restrooms with biological males,” it says. The department’s rule “redefining ‘sex’ in Title IX” originated in non-binding guidance that was not subject to the Administrative Procedures Act, which would have allowed for public input, the suit says, adding that it “is being enforced against schools across the country.”

“As a direct result of Defendants’ Policies and actions, every day these girls go to school, they experience embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, fear, apprehension, stress, degradation, and loss of dignity because they will have to use the locker room and restroom with a biological male,” it says.

The suit appears to be the first federal challenge of the department’s position on transgender students.

Any regular Rules for Engagement reader will tell you this has been a divisive, fast-moving issue lately, running parallel to larger national discussions about the rights of transgender people as a whole. I will keep you updated on both the suit and North Carolina’s response to the Justice Department.

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