Lead by Texas, 11 States Sue Feds Over Transgender Bathroom Policy

by | May 26, 2016

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Texas and 10 other states are suing the Obama administration over its directive that schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.

"The president continues to violate the Constitution by trying to rewrite laws as if he were a king," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "The states serve as the last line of defense against an unlawfully expansive federal government."

The suit marks the latest skirmish in the growing divide between the federal government and some states over LGBT rights.

Texas officials filed suit Wednesday against the departments of Justice and Education, among other federal agencies and officials. They were joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as Maine Gov. Paul Lepage, Arizona's department of education and several school districts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he filed suit after hearing from parents in Fort Worth and a school district along the Oklahoma border opposed to the directive. School officials at the Harrold Independent School District approved a policy Monday that would block the federal directive, risking the loss of $117,000 in annual federal funding, according to the superintendent, who joined Paxton at a briefing in the capital. The district includes a hundred students, he said, none of whom are transgender.

"They want to make sure the safety of their children is protected," Paxton said. "We're willing to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court."

The attorney general said he had not spoken to parents of transgender students, but added, "I represent the entire state, so I'm open to meeting with anybody."

North Carolina also has been battling the federal administration over transgender bathroom access, passing a law that triggered the federal directive.

Paxton said that while North Carolina didn't join this lawsuit, Texas officials were "sympathetic to their cause."

North Carolina has been punished for its stance, as celebrities, potential employers and trade shows have boycotted the state in the wake of its stand against transgender bathroom access.

Paxton said that after hearing from concerned parents and school district officials, he was not worried about a boycott in Texas.

Advocacy groups condemned the lawsuit.

"This lawsuit is an attack by the Attorney General on transgender Texans, plain and simple. While ... Paxton sued the Obama administration, the real targets are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom," Rebecca L. Robertson, a policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said in a statement.

Paxton said officials have not estimated the cost of pursuing the lawsuit, but that "the cost of defending the Constitution is always worth it."

He noted that Texas previously filed suit with more than two dozen states to block Obama's executive action on immigration, a case that made it to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule.

"Just like they did with issues of immigration, the Obama administration has chosen to exclude Congress entirely," on transgender access, Paxton said, accusing the president of using "executive fiat" to rewrite the law.

Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said, "Washington's mandate doesn't fit our schools."

He called the policy created to block the federal directive "necessary to protect the safety, dignity and security of the children."

Other opponents of the federal directive in Texas also praised the lawsuit, including Jonathan Saenz, president of the Austin-based conservative advocacy group Texas Values.

"Our state leaders have been forced to respond to protect the safety of our children. And we know what voters think about this: a very similar issue was pushed in Houston and the voters rejected it," Saenz said, referring to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which failed by a wide margin in November.

Transgender advocates condemned the lawsuit and Paxton, noting that he is facing federal securities-fraud charges on top of a similar state criminal indictment.

Kathy Miller, president of the Austin-based nonpartisan religious liberties watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, called the lawsuit "shameful" and accused Paxton of "bullying transgender students in our public schools."

"Foolishness and fear have taken center stage," Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the state's Democratic Party, said in a statement, adding, "Hate has no place in Texas."

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times