Just Cruel: Right-Wing Judge Targets Protections for Transgender Children

Just as students across the United States head back to school, a federal judge on Sunday filed a preliminary injunction against Obama administration guidelines that are aimed at allowing transgender children and teenagers to use the same restrooms as their peers.

While the implications of the ruling are not yet clear, it is the latest salvo in ongoing attacks on the rights of transgender and gender-non-conforming students.

At issue are new policy directives, issued by the Obama administration in May, which require public schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identities, among other protections.

“The guidance explains that when students or their parents, as appropriate, notify a school that a student is transgender, the school must treat the student consistent with the student’s gender identity,” the Department of Justice said in May. “A school may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate or other identification document before treating them consistent with their gender identity.”

Just days after the new guidelines were issued, 13 states sued numerous federal agencies and officials in a bid to overturn the protections in the lawsuit, Texas v. United States. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, a Republican and fervent opponent of marriage equality, was at the helm of these efforts. Meanwhile, numerous other states launched a similar copycat lawsuit.

It was in response to Texas v. United States that Judge Reed O’Connor issued Sunday’s 38-page ruling. A George W. Bush appointee who serves the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas, O’Connor argued that the directives “contradict the existing legislative and regulatory text.”

While O’Connor claims that his ruling applies nationwide, legal experts say he does not have that power. Five civil rights group—Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Texas; National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR); Transgender Law Center; and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)—issued a joint statement on Monday which declares, “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.”

However, they noted that the “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.”

While Paxton gloated at the injunction, the five civil rights groups warned that it puts children in danger, stating: “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.”


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