by Jeannie Suk
Originally published: May 24, 2016
This month, regional battles over the right of transgender people to access public bathrooms were elevated to national legal theatre. First, the Justice Department told North Carolina that its recent law, requiring education boards and public agencies to limit the use of sex-segregated bathrooms to people of the corresponding biological sex, violated federal civil-rights laws. Governor Pat McCrory responded with a lawsuit, asking a court to declare that the state’s law doesn’t violate those federal laws. Meanwhile, in a suit filed on the same day, the Justice Department asked a court to say that it does.
To top it off, on May 13th the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (O.C.R.) and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division issued a Dear Colleague letter announcing to the nation’s schools that, under Title IX—the 1972 law banning sex discrimination by schools that receive federal funding—transgender students must be allowed to use rest rooms that are “consistent with their gender identity.” The threat was clear: schools that failed to comply could lose federal funding. Protests of federal overreach immediately ensued, including from parents citing safety and privacy as reasons for children and teen-agers to share bathrooms and locker rooms only with students of the same biological sex.