Judge rules against federal guidance to schools about protecting transgender students

A U.S. District Court judge on Aug. 22 issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government’s guidance to public school districts regarding their legal responsibility to allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuit, Texas v. United States.

Five civil rights organizations who had submitted a joint amicus brief in the lawsuit – Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders – issued the following statement in response to U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling:

“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.

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 Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky (through its governor), Louisiana, Mississippi (through its governor), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, the Arizona Department of Education, the Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona, Harrold Independent School District in Texas, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Several of these plaintiffs lie in the 4th, 6th, 9th and 11th Circuits, which had issued binding appellate decisions consistent with the guidance of the federal agencies.

In May, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released the guidance because schools and districts requested clarification on their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex.

Clarifying how schools can safeguard transgender students’ rights to privacy and safety, the guidance says transgender students have the right to be free from discrimination, including the ability to use gender-separated facilities (such as restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity.

The guidance follows similar policies in states and school districts across the country, including many that have been treating transgender students with dignity and respect for more than a decade.

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.

Another 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.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, said in a statement, “As lawsuits on the scope of Title IX proceed, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.”

HRC pointed out that the judge who issued the preliminary injunction also also sought to block Family and Medical Leave Act rights for legally married same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in United States v. Windsor.

On the Web

The court’s order can be read here.