The States Strike Back on Transgender Rights

Officials from Texas and 10 other states challenge the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX and gender identity.

Jonathan Drake / Reuters

Officials from 11 states filed a lawsuit Wednesday to reverse the Obama administration’s legal stance on transgender discrimination in public schools, setting up a second major legal battle over transgender rights in the federal courts.

The complaint, filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of a local school district, asks the federal district court in northern Texas to block the administration from implementing its May 13 guidance letter on protecting transgender rights in public schools.

State attorneys-general from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Utah joined the lawsuit, as well as Arizona’s Department of Education and Maine Governor Paul LePage.

In the guidance letter, the U.S. Education and Justice Departments notified every public-school district in the country that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to gender identity. Under that interpretation, public schools that discriminate against transgender students could risk losing access to federal funds.

The letter covered a broad spectrum of school functions, ranging from housing and single-sex classrooms to graduation ceremonies and school records. But its explicit protections for transgender students who use the bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity received the fiercest opposition.

The complaint alleges the Obama administration “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.”

Paxton filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Harrold Independent School District. According to the complaint, the district’s school board implemented a policy that restricts the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms to members of the designated biological sex on Monday, then asked Paxton’s office to intervene on its behalf.

The lawsuit opens a second front in the battle over transgender rights between federal and state officials. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and North Carolina filed lawsuits against each another over the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which requires citizens to use bathrooms that correspond to their assigned gender at birth. Attorney General Loretta Lynch referred to the bill as “state-sponsored discrimination” and said it violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.