Republicans in the Georgia Senate, still smarting over a veto of an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill, found a new cause to vent their anti-LGBT anger: filing a lawsuit to block new federal guidelines on transgender students.
About two-dozen of the state Senate's 39 Republicans signed a letter sent to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens on Monday requesting that they file a lawsuit to block federal guidelines concerning the safety of transgender students. The letter also urged Deal and Olens to notify public schools across Georgia that the state will defend them in a lawsuit if they refuse to comply with the guidelines. The letter calls the guidelines "social engineering goals of the Left," warns of predators masquerading as transgender people to assault others in restrooms, and charges that the "directive flies in the face of accepted medical science."
We urge that you take immediate action on at least two fronts. First, we urge you to file suit against the Executive Branch of the federal government for overreaching its constitutional authority. Title IX does not include “gender identity,” and federal bureaucrats have no constitutional authority to declare that the law covers these situations. Second, we urge you to send a letter to every public school and public institution of higher education in our state to assure them that the State of Georgia will defend them against any lawsuit that may result from not complying with this federal directive.
“As a state, we would never embark upon such policies like this. In fact, we do all that we can to protect children. For example, we ensure that children wear seatbelts. We do not allow them to drink alcohol or buy cigarettes until they are 21. We provide significant penalties for those who use children in sex trafficking. We remove children from the custody of those who abuse them.
“The federal Executive Branch has now assumed the role of the abuser by threatening the safety and welfare of the children of the State of Georgia. We cannot be complicit in this abuse by being complacent. We must be proactive to come to the defense of our children.”
The letter from Georgia Republicans also includes a big dose of scare tactics:
This federal directive endangers children in various ways. First, it destroys all expectations of privacy in the restroom, locker room, and dormitory. Immediate and long-term consequences will follow. Unfortunately, the ones most likely to be victimized will be the girls in our schools. We are hearing reports where this open-door policy has been implemented, that voyeurism and sexual exploitation have occurred. Sexual assaults will not be far behind. Predators will seize the opportunity to pretend to be transgender in order to gain access to women’s locker rooms, bathrooms, and dorms. What kind of scars will result for girls who are exposed to this type of abuse?
Beyond the critical issue of student safety is the broader issue of privacy and decency. Most Georgia parents try to instill in their children respect for natural modesty around members of the opposite sex. The federal government is now dictating that the schools override these teachings, and instead inculcate in students the demonstrably false and harmful philosophy that there are no natural differences between the sexes and that any common-sense recognition of those differences is somehow discriminatory. No government has the right to confuse children by teaching them to disregard reality.
The federal guidelines, issued Friday, mandate that public schools 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 don't have the force of law, but school districts that don't follow them could lose federal funds.
The issue boiled over in Fannin County in North Georgia on Thursday when hundreds of people attended a Board of Education meeting to denounce the idea that the school district would allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity. Some 50 people spoke during three hours of public comment – many to condemn LGBT people as "perverts" and "pedophiles" that threaten the safety of students.
Also last week, House Speaker David Ralston – whose district includes Blue Ridge and a portion of Fannin – blasted the federal guidelines as "a vast overreach of federal authority." U.S. Reps. Tom Price and Doug Collins also criticized the guidelines. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican from Pooler, penned a letter to President Obama asking that the guidelines be yanked, according to Georgia Pol. The letter was signed by 39 members of the U.S. House, including five Georgia lawmakers – Carter, Collins, Austin Scott, Lynn Westmoreland and Rob Woodall.
But the letter from state Senate Republicans assures that the issue of transgender students and restrooms has arrived as the latest cause for anti-LGBT lawmakers. Sen. David Shafer, the Senate's president pro tem, criticized the guidelines in a Facebook post on Saturday.
The President of the United States has no business micromanaging school restrooms and locker rooms, and his threat to defund public education if schools do not let him decide where children take showers should outrage everyone.
And Sen. Josh McKoon (photo), the strident ringleader of anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation, implied that transgender students are criminals who threaten the safety of other students. So he pledged to file legislation when lawmakers return next year to allow people to sue the federal government over the guidelines if someone is "victimized" in a restroom, according to the AJC.
“We have enough problems educating our children without introducing this problem into the equation,” he said.
McKoon said unless something changes, he expects the General Assembly to address the bathroom issue in next year’s session, a sentiment shared by several other lawmakers since the directive became public. McKoon said he will file legislation waiving the state’s right to be protected from lawsuits if someone is “victimized” in a bathroom.
“I want to make sure they are able to sue the government on this …. we’ve got to make it clear if these policies are put in place and these children are put as risk,” he said. “I want to make sure if and when there are children who are victimized, their parents are going to be able to get legal relief.”
It's the second time in recent days that McKoon has threatened legislative action on the issue.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods told the Gwinnett Daily Post that allowing transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity poses "safety concerns."
“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.”
And officials with Gwinnett schools, the largest school district in the state, criticized the federal guidelines in a statement issued on Sunday. Via the AJC:
The statement, though, blasted the directive. It said, in part, that local school districts should decide such issues and described the guidelines as federal “overreach.”
“Given the unique safety and privacy concerns of elementary and secondary school students, this issue should be handled at the local level where school leadership can best address the needs of its students in accordance with the shared values of order, fairness, and respect,” the statement said.
The school district added that the policy "infringes" on local school systems. Via the Gwinnett Daily Post:
“Although the new agency ‘guidance’ does not have the force of law or regulation, it does infringe upon the abilities of school districts to determine appropriate education policy, procedures, and practices for their students,” the GCPS statement, which wasn’t signed by a particular official, said. “We believe our current practice is reasonable, logical, and workable, and therefore, it should not be uprooted by what we consider an overreach by two federal agencies.”
The school system also said it would offer restrooms for transgender students.
“After carefully considering the issue, GCPS will continue to provide students with sex-designated restroom facilities, while offering gender-neutral facilities to any student who does not wish to use the restroom facility designated for his or her biological sex,” the district said in a Sunday statement posted to its website.
The statement can no longer be found on the school system's website.
Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said she welcomed the new federal guidelines. Via 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.”