The Trump administration has revoked U.S. guidelines that let transgender students use restrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity rather than the gender listed for them at birth.
In a letter sent to schools nationwide Wednesday, the administration said the guidelines had caused confusion about how they should be applied, and that confusion had led to lawsuits. The letter also said anti-bullying safeguards, aimed at protecting transgender students from taunting at school, would not be lifted.
The bathroom guidelines, issued earlier by the Obama administration, were the result of a battle in the North Carolina legislature over whether transgender students should be allowed to use school bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said it was “not a priority” for President Donald Trump to rescind the Obama order, but that the new administration was forced to decide whether it would defend it in a pending court case and opted not to.
The spokesman said Trump believes in “states' rights,” saying that the issue of transgender rights in restrooms in public schools and other public buildings is best left for the 50 U.S. state governments to decide.
Tami Fitzgerald of the NC Values Coalition told an Associated Press reporter in Raleigh, North Carolina, that she supported the Trump administration's action.
"I agree with President Trump," she said. "This IS a state issue. And the federal government was engaged in gross overreach when it issued this directive that impacted every public school in the country."
But Ames Simmons of Equality NC disagreed.
"We believe this is a terrible message that the Trump administration is sending to some of the most vulnerable young people in our country today — that the president and the administration are not going to protect them from discrimination, no matter what Title IX says," he said, also speaking to a reporter in Raleigh.
Fitzgerald argued, "When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and Title IX, they never contemplated that sex would mean gender identity. It's not in the bill. It's not what the bill says. It's not what the law says."
The Obama-era guidelines were based on a reading of a U.S. law that bans sex discrimination in education and school activities, in the belief that it also applied to gender identity. The guidelines were not legally binding, but they amounted to a warning to school districts that they faced loss of federal funds if they did not follow them.
The issue sparked protests in some school districts and opposition by conservative local officials, particularly in cases where transgender girls — those identified as male at birth but who later chose to live as females — were allowed to use girls' restrooms.
A laissez-faire approach
During his long run for the White House, presidential candidate Trump took a laissez-faire attitude toward the issue — a policy of letting matters take their own course, without interfering. At one point, he invited prominent transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner to use whichever restroom she preferred at his Trump Tower office building in New York.
Jenner, the former Olympic gold-medal winner known at the time as Bruce Jenner, used the women's bathroom a few days later when she visited the skyscraper where Trump lived and from where he ran his worldwide businesses.
“A trans woman in New York, I gotta take a pee,” Jenner said at the time. “Anyways, oh, my God, Trump International Tower, I love this.”