A Georgia lawmaker who has called LGBT people “pansies” and labeled them a “hate group” turned his scorn to transgender students and supporters of federal guidelines on how to protect them in schools.
Rep. Earl Ehrhart (photo) – the longest-serving Republican in the Georgia House – mocked the federal guidelines and people who support them on Wednesday during debate on the House floor. Later that day, the Trump administration rescinded the sweeping directive that the Obama administration issued in May.
Ehrhart's comments came during debate over his legislation that would ban state funds going to private colleges that declare themselves “sanctuary campuses.” Ehrhart complained that opponents of his bill concerned it would withhold state funds from schools also supported the Obama administration's guidance on the treatment of transgender students. The directive threatened federal funds to school districts that didn't comply.
“And here's my favorite, the richness of this irony. The idea that withholding state funds coming from those who have supported the Obama administration for all these years that have threatened to withhold every elementary student in this state's elementary school dollars over a bathroom,” Ehrhart questioned.
“You're going to destroy the education of every elementary student in this state on bathroom policy? There's rich irony there,” he added.
The guidelines from the Obama administration mandated that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The measure was not law – unlike Ehrhart's legislation – but school districts that don't follow could have faced lawsuits or the loss of federal funds. The guidelines also called 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.
Ehrhart scoffed at supporters of the policy again before teasing what happened later Wednesday – the White House rescinding the directive on transgender students.
“Thankfully most of that is about to come to an end in the federal government. But you gotta appreciate the richness of the irony,” Ehrhart said.
Ehrhart's legislation, House Bill 37, was approved 115 to 55.
The transgender guidelines ignited potty wars across Georgia last year. The backlash included Gov. Nathan Deal and former Attorney General Sam Olens blasting the directive as “federal overreach” as they hitched Georgia to a lawsuit with 12 other states challenging the guidelines.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Attorney General Chris Carr said the office is reviewing the Trump administration's revocation of the guidelines and what effect that may have on the federal lawsuit.
Dumping the guidelines prompted harsh reaction from LGBT activists in Atlanta.
“This move sends a harmful message that puts transgender students' well-being and safety at risk,” said Rev. Kim Sorrells, Georgia Field Organizer for the Reconciling Ministries Network.
“As a transgender person and as a pastor who has worked with youth ministry for many years, this issue is especially close to my heart. These young people just want to be their true selves and to be treated fairly in their schools. School practices that single out transgender students can harm their success and their health. Some have described this as a daily walk of shame when they are forced to use separate restrooms than their peers. This puts out students at risk,” Sorrells added.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said he's disappointed that the president “turned his back on transgender students.”
“If people don't feel that Georgia is a safe and welcoming place to do business or to raise their families, that they will relocate. That's the sort of damage that can be done to our state's reputation,” Graham told WSB.
Regina Willis contributed to this report.