Conservative lawmakers in Georgia exploded in rage over new federal guidelines about transgender access to restrooms and the state's top educator said the guidance creates "safety concerns."
Meanwhile, the leader of Atlanta city schools welcomed the new guidelines.
The issue of transgender restroom access boiled over in Fannin County on Thursday as religious conservatives denounced the idea while calling LGBT people "perverts" and "pedophiles" that threaten the safety of students. On Friday, the Obama administration issued a sweeping directive to public school districts across the country mandating that they allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The guidelines also call for schools to provide access to all programs to transgender students, refer to them by their chosen names and pronouns, put in place safeguards to keep their gender identity private and respond to reports of harassment.
The guidelines sparked a harsh reaction from Republicans in Georgia, particularly ones locked in tough primary election battles on Tuesday. That included Rep. Doug Collins (photo), who is running for re-election in Georgia's 9th District – which includes Fannin and a chunk of northwest Georgia.
"Girls should use girls’ bathrooms, and boys should use boy’s bathrooms," Collins posted to Facebook on Friday. "It is as simple as that. Obama is once again disregarding the separation of powers."
On Sunday, Collins offered even more.
"Sometimes I think the president is in a daily competition with himself to see just how far he can overreach," he said.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, whose District 7 seat includes Blue Ridge and Fannin, criticized the guidelines and urged U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue to take action.
"Using the power of the purse strings to being about such change is, in my opinion, a vast overreach of federal authority and one that must not go unchallenged. I recognize that there are no easy answers. But decisions on issues such as this should be left to the locally-elected school boards and should be free of threats and coercion of the federal government," Ralston said Thursday in a letter to the senators.
Former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson, who is running in a crowded GOP primary in Georgia's 3rd Congressional District, also unloaded over the guidelines. Via AJC:
And then there was the press release from former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson, who’s running in the crowded GOP race to replace retiring Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.
Here’s the (PG-13) statement his campaign released over the weekend:
“Common sense has fled the addled brains of our nations leaders. Kickstands to the left, hoo ha’s to the right. We don’t need the President to make this decision for us.”
And Rep. Tom Price, who doesn't face GOP opposition in Tuesday's primary for another term in Georgia's 9th District, called the guidelines "absurd."
"It is absurd that we need a 'federal restroom policy' for our nation's schools. This is yet another abuse and overreach of power by the Obama Administration, and a clear invasion of privacy. Schools should not have to fear retaliation for failure to comply," Price wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Richard Woods, Georgia's elected schools superintendent, echoed anti-LGBT rhetoric by repeating the assertion that the policy equates to allowing different genders to use the same restrooms. He told the Gwinnett Daily Post that he wants to “carefully consider policy before making recommendations or taking actions.”
“With that said, my first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students,” Woods said in a statement. “I believe there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom alongside students of the opposite sex. We will communicate with districts when we’ve had time to fully evaluate the issue.”
The lone note of reason came from Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who said she welcomed the guidelines, according to the AJC.
Current Atlanta Public Schools policy states that students shall not be subjected to discrimination or harassment because of the student’s gender identity or expression. However, that board policy does not directly address transgender students’ use of restrooms and locker rooms.
Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen said she plans to review the new guidance and see if any changes are needed. But she said she welcomed the guidance.
“The guidance I think feels more right because schools have struggled with this,” she said. “Just having a good baseline of guidance that is supported by the Department of Justice takes a lot of questions out of people’s minds and we can serve students better.”
[h/t AJC Political Insider]