The judge overseeing a lawsuit from Georgia and 12 other states issued an injunction, stopping new federal guidelines about the treatment of transgender students from going into effect.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines instructing schools nationwide that they are expected to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.
The backlash was immediate, igniting potty wars in Georgia as the state joined 12 others in suing the federal government, calling the new guidelines “federal overreach.” School districts around the state have made sure to let transgender students know they will be not be accommodated.
In Fannin County parents took over the public comment portion of a school board meeting, spending more than three hours on anti-LGBT tirades, decrying the introduction of “the homosexual agenda,” and calling transgender people “perverts,” and saying “it’s a delusion.”
Transphobes also dug in their heels in Hall County and refused to follow the new guidelines. Superintendent Will Schofield told the Gainesville Times, “In our district, boys use boys’ rooms and girls use girls’ rooms,” meaning his district expects “individuals to utilize the restroom of their biological sex.”
The Gwinnett County school district entered the fray, offering the “common-sense” strategy of singling out transgender students and forcing them use to separate facilities. Gwinnett has the largest school system in the state with nearly 170,000 students.
So now, per the lawsuit, states are claiming they will “suffer irreparable harm,” if they are forced to comply with the guidelines. The judge in charge of the case – U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor – issued a preliminary injunction on Sunday preventing the guidelines from being enforced while the lawsuit moves through the courts.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens (photo) was quick to applaud the move.
“We are pleased that the federal court agrees that the guidance letter is yet another example of the President’s unconstitutional overreach. The Constitution gives only Congress the power to write and rewrite laws. Threatening to withhold taxpayer dollars from schools if they don’t comply with this mandate is unconstitutional. I will continue to defend the Constitution on behalf of Georgians.”
The federal court hasn’t yet agreed that the guidelines were an overreach – instead just agreeing that Georgia and the other states suing over them successfully made the case for an injunction.
The conservative Liberty Counsel praised the injunction, saying “we must continue to reject the Obama bullies,” and pandering to outdated fears linking transgender and gender nonconforming folks to sexual assault.
Yet it's transgender students who actually contend with high levels of violence, with 78 percent these students facing harassment, 35 percent dealing with physical assault and 12 percent reporting sexual assault. But these sorts of details get in the way of promoting hateful, transphobic attitudes.
Meanwhile, Lambda Legal, ACLU and ACLU of Texas, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defender issued a joint press release expressing their opposition to the injunction.
“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse,” according to the press release.
The ruling on the injunction does not, “undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination.”
Another LGBTQ group, GLSEN, reiterated that.
“This ruling comes from a court specifically chosen for its track record of being on the wrong side of history,” adding, “It is not the end of our fight to ensure that all students attend schools that are safe and affirming.”
A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination. This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly. The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.
The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.
Although the court failed to consider the interests of the very students the federal laws were intended to protect, the five civil rights organizations who advocated on their behalf avowed, “We will continue to file lawsuits representing transgender students and litigate them to the fullest extent of the law—regardless of what happens with this particular federal guidance.”
Texas v. United States was brought by Texas and 10 other states — subsequently joined by two additional states — against the United States, the Departments of Justice, Education and Labor and numerous federal officials. The plaintiffs include the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky (through its governor), Louisiana, Mississippi (through its governor), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, and the Arizona Department of Education, the Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona, Harrold Independent School District in Texas, and Maine Governor Paul LePage. Several of these plaintiffs lie in the Fourth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, which had issued binding appellate decisions consistent with the guidance of the federal agencies.
The lawsuit targets various federal letters, guides, memos, and statements regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments that conclude that federal bans on sex discrimination encompass gender identity discrimination, and that transgender individuals should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The lawsuit claims that that guidance is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution. A copycat lawsuit was filed recently by the state of Nebraska, joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan (through its attorney general), Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.