Eleven US states sued President Barack Obama’s administration Wednesday to try to overturn federal guidelines demanding that public schools allow transgender students to access the bathroom of their choice.
In the joint filing in US District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, the states accused the federal government of trying to rewrite laws by “executive fiat.”
In a letter to public school districts and universities on May 13, the Justice and Education Departments laid out guidelines on creating a safe environment for transgender students, in accordance with existing laws on discrimination.
In particular, the letter asks schools to allow transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identity — rather than the sex on their birth certificate.
Although non-binding, schools that fail to comply with the directive could potentially face lawsuits or reduced federal aid.
“Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” the court filing read.
“The letter tries to rewrite Title IX by executive fiat, mandating all bathrooms and showers open to both sexes, while simultaneously permitting different sex athletics subject to limited exceptions. The new policy has no basis in law.”
The administration argues that gender identity is protected under Title IX, a provision under the Education Amendments of 1972 that bars schools receiving federal funding from discriminating based on a student’s sex.
Texas is the lead plaintiff in the complaint, joined by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Nine of the 11 states are ruled by Republican governors.
The filing lists the US government and several federal agencies and their chiefs as defendants.
A pitched legal battle is underway between the federal government and the state of North Carolina over a law requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. Both the state and the Obama administration have filed dueling lawsuits.
The battle is part of a wider debate on equal rights in the United States, where a flurry of initiatives have targeted the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities since a historic Supreme Court decision last year legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.