LGBT advocates have hailed new guidance from the Obama administration requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, but presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and other conservatives aren’t on board.
During an interview on NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, Trump declined to support the newly issued guidance made public that day by the Departments of Education and Justice, saying he would leave the issue to the states as opposed to having the federal government take the lead.
“Let the states decide,” Trump said. “I think it’s much better as a local issue. I don’t think it’s a federal issue where the federal government gets involved. And I see what’s happening. It’s become such a big situation.”
Trump’s remarks stand in contrast to earlier comment he made in opposition to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 in which he said transgender people should be able to use the restroom they think is most appropriate, although he’s since walked back those comments by saying states and localities should handle the issue.
“Everybody has to be protected,” Trump continued, “and I feel strongly about that, but you’re talking about a tiny, tiny group of the population. With that being said, everybody has to be protected, but I would leave it up to the states.”
JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said Trump made a “reckless anti-LGBT suggestion” by saying protections for transgender students should be left to the states.
“Donald Trump’s dangerous bluster would allow governors to bully transgender students and should be deeply alarming to the majority of Americans who support LGBT equality,” Winterhof said. “Here’s the reality, Mr. Trump: Teachers and schools are asking for the federal government’s help because politicians like you and Gov. Pat McCrory are putting transgender students at risk. Transgender youth face a heightened risk for bullying, harassment and violence, which is exactly why it is inexcusable that anyone running for president would try to take a pass on protecting all students.”
Other conservatives were more explicit in their ire over the Obama administration instructing schools not to discriminate against transgender students, saying it amounts to overreach from the federal government.
According to The Hill newspaper, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has a reputation for being an anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant lawmaker, said on C-SPAN Friday he would likely hold a committee hearing over the new guidance.
“I oppose that piece of policy. I think…it is an executive overreach,” King is quoted as saying. “And it’s a topic we’re likely to bring up in a future hearing before the task force that I chair.”
In Texas, state officials were vitriolic. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement the instructions amount to bullying and suggested he would file a lawsuit against the federal government.
“Once again, the Obama Administration has overstepped its constitutional bounds to meddle in the affairs of state and local government,” Paxton said. “Today’s announcement seeking to unilaterally redefine and expand federal law must be challenged. If President Obama thinks he can bully Texas schools into allowing men to have open access to girls in bathrooms, he better prepare for yet another legal fight.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told reporters Friday he’s instructing all public schools to ignore the guidance, comparing to federal rules against prayer in schools.
“He says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy. Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver,” referring to the story of what Judas was paid to betray Jesus Christ, according to the Christian Bible.
Texas Gov. Greg Abott denounced the guidance in favor of transgender students via his Twitter account, accusing President Obama of rewriting the Civil Rights Act as if he were a monarch.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 13, 2016
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said King and Texas officials are giving conservativism a bad name with their comments.
“More of the same from the usual suspects,” Angelo said. “If Congressman King holds a hearing on toilets, he’ll literally be taking the conservative movement into the gutter.”
Opposition also came from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who’s become the face of his state law that explicitly prohibits transgender students from using the public restroom consistent with the gender identity.
“Most Americans, including this governor, believe that government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined,” McCrory said. “Now, both the federal courts and the U.S. Congress must intercede to stop this massive executive branch overreach, which clearly oversteps constitutional authority. Both non-discrimination and privacy are basic tenets of our great country. States and local governments cannot have a myriad of different laws which cause confusion and inconsistent application.”
Jay Brown, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said McCrory is disregarding the law with his comments and continued enforcement of House Bill 2.
“Gov. McCrory has shamefully decided to play politics with the lives of transgender students – and is also demonstrating his lack of knowledge about the law,” Brown said. “These guidelines, which teachers and administrators were requesting, are supported by case law and have been enforced now for years. In fact, the Fourth Circuit recently ruled in favor of a transgender student suing his school for exactly the type of discrimination that is described in this guidance. Gov. McCrory – and any governor who expresses similar resistance to complying with federal civil rights law – risks not only losing billions in federal funding but also risks the safety of students.”