Published with permission from Alternet.
The Obama administration issued a directive to all public schools Friday, instructing school officials to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity, the AP reports. A copy of the letter, which was sent to every public school district in the country from the Department of Justice, was posted on the DOJ’s website.
The letter said that “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” adding that the DOJ’s interpretation is “consistent with courts’ and other agencies’ interpretations of Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.”
The directive comes less than five days after North Carolina governor Pat McCrory ignored a deadline imposed by the U.S. Justice Department to refuse to enforce HB2—the controversial “bathroom bill” that blocked city and local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections. McCroy sued the federal government, accusing the Justice Department of “baseless and blatant overreach.” The Justice Department responded by suing North Carolina for discrimination.
In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch—who gave an impassioned speech on transgender equality this week—said, “there is not room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex.”
Though it does not impose any new legal requirements, the guidance clarifies expectations for schools to comply with Title IX, which requires schools receiving federal funding to ensure that no person is subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex. The Obama administration is also releasing a 25-page document with specific suggestions on “ways schools can make transgender students comfortable in the classroom and protect the privacy rights of all students in restrooms or locker rooms.”
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffen heralded the administration’s directive. “This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools,” Griffin said in a statement.
In recent years, the Obama administration has thrown its support behind the LGBT community. Earlier this month, President Obama indicated plans to declare the Stonewall Inn—site of the legendary Stonewall Riots that kickstarted the modern gay rights movement—a national monument. Still, if history (and North Carolina) is any indication, we still have a long way to go in eliminating gender discrimination.
Elizabeth Preza is an AlterNet staff writer focusing on politics, media and cultural criticism. Follow her on Twitter @lizacisms.
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House in Washington after a visit to Flint, Michigan, to address that city’s water crisis, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan