Feb. 21 (UPI) — With Barack Obama in the White House, transgender Americans had the federal government solidly in their corner in their pursuit of the legal right to use public restrooms that match their gender identity.
That corner might now be empty.
Tuesday, the new White House indicated a different course of action is coming in the matter. During a news briefing, spokesman Sean Spicer said new federal guidance in the legal clash is coming soon.
“Right now that’s an issue that the Department of Justice and Department of Education are addressing,” he said. “There will be further guidance from DOJ with respect to not just the executive order but also the cases in front of the Supreme Court.”
Spicer indicated that President Donald Trump wants to allow individual states the legal authority to determine their policies on public restroom use.
“The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states rights issue and not one for the federal government,” he said. “I think all you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time, that this is not something the federal government should be involved in.”
Under Obama, the Justice Department issued a directive last May mandating that public schools in all states must allow transgender students to use whichever restroom matches their gender identity. Some states, including Texas and North Carolina, challenged the directive in court — and the Obama administration even sued North Carolina over the issue.
“What we did as an administration was to help the society to move in a better direction. None of that would have happened without this incredible transformation that was happening in [American] society,” Obama said at his final news briefing, two days before he left office. “I don’t think it is something that will be reversible.”
There is currently a federal injunction in place to block the Obama directive while it is evaluated by appellate courts. A reversal by Trump would immediately impact multiple pending legal cases in the matter — including that of Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm, which is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.
The White House is illuminated with rainbow light on June 26, 2015, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Former President Barack Obama maintained a track record of supporting LGBT rights during his eight years in office — including the right to restroom freedom for transgender American students. Photo by Drew Angerer/UPI/Pool
States that have opposed bathroom freedom for transgender persons have received substantial backlash as a consequence. The National Basketball Association stripped Charlotte, N.C., of last weekend’s All-Star Game due to the state’s House Bill 2, which outlawed public restroom freedom for transgender persons. The NCAA removed Greensboro, N.C., from hosting two rounds of next month’s men’s basketball tournament — and the issue might prevent Texas from hosting future Super Bowls.
Early in his campaign, Trump said he supported gay and transgender rights — but he has already started rolling back Obama’s efforts to those ends. If he reverses the policies laid by Obama, many advocates believe it would be a significant setback for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
What’s more, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been criticized by Democrats for having a poor track record of defending civil and LGBT rights.
“We are alarmed by these developments, which could expose hundreds of thousands of transgender students to what amounts to federally-sanctioned bullying,” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “This is about justice, it’s about what’s right, and it’s about our children. If this Administration truly wants America to be great, it can start by making it a place in which our children needn’t fight every day just to be themselves.”
“Equality is not a states’ rights issue — never was, isn’t now,” the group tweeted Tuesday. “The dignity of transgender students does not vary from state to state.”
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned a potential reversal of policy, but emphasized that Trump’s government would be quite limited in what that move could practically accomplish.
“Even if this happens, transgender students are still protected under federal law, and Trump can’t change that,” the ACLU said.
“Rescinding the guidance is cruel and will accomplish nothing but to hurt kids who are [transgender],” civil rights attorney Chase Stangio said Tuesday. “Rescinding the guidance does not change the rights of students under Title IX. Trans[gender] students are protected from discrimination by federal law and the administration can’t change that. That is precisely what we are arguing before the Supreme Court in Gavin Grimm’s case now.
“Get mad but don’t overstate what this does.”