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Saturday, October 21, 2017

The muddled minds that now run the federal government think it’s fine, preferable even, to legally segregate public bathrooms. In 2017, this should shock.

The targeted group today is transgender students. And the bathroom stalls some want to keep them out of are in the public schools these youths attend.

This is of a piece with the attitudes and beliefs that created “For whites only” drinking fountains in the Jim Crow South. If you don’t see the correlation, you have company in the White House.

President Donald Trump rescinded the guidance the Obama administration issued less than a year ago. Obama directed public schools in America to treat transgender children equal to other children, allowing transgender children to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity, not the gender assigned at their birth.

Trump’s jab at the rights of transgender children was intended as a thank-you to the religious ultraconservatives who helped elect him. The new president was pressured by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose fingerprints are all over this travesty. Remember this moment as example No. 1 of how Sessions will limit civil rights rather than ensure equal treatment for all.

Sessions reportedly pressed Trump to make the move to circumvent a pending case in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves a Virginia transgender high school student who was restricted to using a segregated bathroom by the local school board.

G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board is the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education for transgender students. It could codify their rights as equally protected under Title IX. Arguments were to be heard in March.

But the Trump team wanted to get its licks in first.

Guidance issued by the Obama administration had bolstered the transgender student’s case, but now that the policy has been reversed, the Supreme Court could sent the matter back to the lower court.

G.G. is Gavin Grimm. His story is typical for many transgender youth.

Gavin’s school first told him to use a bathroom in the nurse’s office. But the separate accommodations were alienating and humiliating. Eventually, school administrators relented, and for two months Gavin used the boys’ bathroom. Other students, as they tend to be, were fine with it.

But a few parents and busybodies from town got involved, lodging complaints. The school board overreacted, barring Gavin from the boys’ restroom. In 2015, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Gavin sued.

As Gavin has so often and graciously explained, he is not making a “choice” any more than a gay or straight student chooses his or her sexual orientation. The doctors who treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria recognize that truth.

It’s morally and legally wrong to deny a person’s public rights or cast hardship upon him or her simply to bolster the comfort level of a larger group. It shouldn’t matter if the singled out person is a student relegated to a unisex bathroom or a black person restricted from using a water fountain or a family of a particular religion barred from a neighborhood.

Public concerns about transgender people could be alleviated by a broader understanding that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. The confusion too often spins into generalized fears about predatory sexual behavior like pedophilia, which has nothing to do with gender identity or whether a person is gay or straight.

Most larger school districts have been quietly doing the right thing, accommodating transgender students and easing understanding among classmates and parents.

But not all do so, which is why it’s necessary to have the law firmly delineated on matters of civil rights.

Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, appears to understand this. She pushed back against Sessions but lost.

DeVos reportedly insisted the Trump order underscore that LGBT students be shielded from bullying. Perhaps that will ease her conscience. It will not fully protect these students.

The Trump administration is sending a dangerous mixed message.

It is giving school districts the thumbs up to discriminate, while also recognizing that transgender children are at risk.

The righteous path is to be clear and unequivocal: Transgender children deserve equal treatment among their classmates. And they shouldn’t have to wait for a president or his weak-kneed Cabinet to evolve enough that they embrace the full reach of civil rights in America.

Follow Mary Sanchez on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.

IMAGE: Rally to protect the rights of transgender students tonight, by the White House, in response to the administration’s withdrawal of the transgender-rights directive. Victoria Pickering/Flickr

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