Georgia sues to block trans student bathrooms

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Georgia has joined 10 other states in suing the federal government over new guidelines concerning transgender students, less than two weeks after Gov. Nathan Deal topped short of endorsing such a suit. 

“The guidance letter is yet another example of the President’s unconstitutional overreach,” Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a statement. “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 new and legally unsound mandate is unconstitutional. I will continue to defend the Constitution on behalf of Georgians.”

Republicans in the state Senate called on Deal and Olens (photo) to sue to block the new guidelines. While the pair criticized the guidelines, they stopped short of filing suit – until Wednesday.

“Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants’ rewriting of Title VII and Title IX is wholly incompatible with Congressional text. Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, Defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation,” the lawsuit added. 

Georgia joined 10 other states in filing the lawsuit – Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

On May 13, 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 measure is not law but school districts that don't follow it could face lawsuits or the loss of federal funds. 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 received a mixed reaction in school districts across the state. In Fannin County, hundreds of parents invoked their religious beliefs to denounce the guidelines and LGBT students as “pedophiles” and “perverts.” In Gwinnett – the state’s largest school system – a protest over the guidelines fizzled as school officials criticized the guidelines but said they would offer trans students gender-neutral restrooms. In Atlanta, schools chief Meria Carstarphen said she welcomed the new federal guidance.

Deal asked Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to the state's 181 school districts on how to address the guidelines. Woods repeatedly blasted them as an overreach that threatened student safety. On Friday, he told school districts to ignore them.

The lawsuit marks at least the second time Olens has fought LGBT issues in federal court. He defended keeping gay marriage illegal in Georgia – until the U.S. Supreme legalized it across the country last June.

The suit is the work of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the anti-gay public official fighting criminal charges of securities fraud.

Paul Castillo, a staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, issued a statement that the LGBT legal group is considering how to respond to the lawsuit.

“By attacking laws that protect transgender people in schools and at work these state officials are determined to perpetuate fear, enshrine discrimination and endanger transgender people—and  students in particular. The suit filed today by Texas Attorney General Paxton completely and willfully misunderstands who transgender people are and the challenges they face in life. We are already in discussions with our partners here in Texas and elsewhere on next steps, and will move quickly to fight this attempt to turn back the clock. It is as true today as it has always been in the fight for civil rights: the discomfort of some can never be used to justify the discriminatory treatment of others.

“Across the country, including here in Texas, school districts have implemented without incident fair and inclusive policies that respect the rights and dignity of transgender students. In fact, accompanying the federal guidance issued two weeks ago was abundant documentation from school districts nationwide demonstrating successful implementation of these policies and the improved outcomes such respectful policies produce for all.

“Singling out transgender students for separate and unequal treatment is demeaning and harmful, and compelling them to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with their gender identity subjects them to potential abuse and harassment. All students deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in school, free of harassment, discriminatory treatment and the threat of violence.”

 District Court Complaint by Julie Wolfe



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