Row over toilets heats up in US
Trump overturns Obama move that supported transgender schoolkids
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday revoked landmark guidance to public schools letting transgender students use the toilet of their choice, reversing a signature initiative of former President Barack Obama.
Mr Obama had instructed public schools last May to allow transgender students to use the toilets matching their chosen gender identity, threatening to withhold funding for schools that did not comply. Transgender people hailed it as victory for their civil rights.
Mr Trump, who took office last month, rescinded those guidelines, even though they had been put on hold by a federal judge, arguing that states and public schools should have the authority to make their own decisions without federal interference.
The Justice and Education departments will continue to study the legal issues involved, according to the new guidance that will be sent to public schools across the country.
Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Mr Trump's Nov 8 election.
A couple of hundred people gathered in front of the White House to protest, waving rainbow flags and chanting: "No hate, no fear, trans students are welcome here." The rainbow flag is the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, people.
"We all know that Donald Trump is a bully, but his attack on transgender children today is a new low," said Ms Rachel Tiven, chief executive of Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBT people.
Conservatives such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who spearheaded the lawsuit challenging the Obama guidance, hailed the Trump administration action.
"Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama's attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change," said the Republican.
Transgender legal advocates have criticised the "states' rights" argument, saying federal law and civil rights are matters for the federal government to enforce, not the states.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration had to act now because of the pending US Supreme Court case, G.G. versus Gloucester County School Board.
That case pits a Virginia transgender teen, Gavin Grimm, against officials who want to deny him use of the boys' room at his high school.
The Trump administration action also withdrew an Education Department letter in support of Grimm's case.
"I've faced my share of adversaries in rural Virginia. I never imagined that my government would be one of them," Grimm, 17, told the protest outside the White House. "We will not be beaten down by this administration."
The federal law in question, known as Title IX, bans sex discrimination in education. But it remains unsettled whether Title IX protections extend to a person's gender identity.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Obama guidelines "did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX".
The courts are likely to have the final say over whether Title IX covers transgender students. The Supreme Court could pass on that question in the Virginia case and allow lower courts to weigh in, or go ahead and decide what the law means.
Mr Obama's Education Department undertook the guidance in response to queries from school districts across the country about how to accommodate transgender students in gender-segregated bathrooms.
The Obama administration guidance also covered a host of other issues, such as the importance of addressing transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns and schools' responsibility to prevent harassment and bullying of transgender children.
Thirteen states sued to stop the Obama guidelines, and a US district judge in Texas temporarily halted their full implementation. - REUTERS