Progress has been made in overturning North Carolina’s House Bill 2 or commonly known as the transgender “bathroom law”. House Bill 2 states that people must use the bathroom that coincides with the gender listed on their birth certificate. CNN reported on February 11 that a judge ruled that 2 students and 1 faculty member at the University of North Carolina be allowed to used the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity. Until these three plaintiffs go to trial it is a temporary and limited block of this law but is being considered as the first step in the law being repealed.
However while that is good news out of North Carolina, on a federal level the news is not celebratory. The Obama Administration had the the Justice Department and Education Department advised public schools that they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, as opposed to their birth gender, or face the loss of federal funds. Thirteen states are suing the federal government over this directive. The states are: Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky.
A hearing was set for February 14 but the Justice Department and the states filed a joint notice saying both sides moved to cancel the hearing. “The parties are currently considering how to best proceed in this appeal,” the motion said. Prior to this hearing these states had won a national injunction, which still stands, preventing that guidance about bathrooms from being disseminated to students. Besides the bathroom access issue, the guidance also covered making sure transgender students’ privacy is protected.
Activists of the LGBT community said the Justice Department move to cancel the hearing is not a good sign and believes it signals a shift in policy. “It is sending a signal they don’t intend to enforce the guidance in any state,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN. “They are fine with their hands being tied.”
This week, sadly, the cancellation of the hearings made sense as the Trump Administration withdrew all protections for transgender students. At the CPAC conference Betsy DeVos responded by saying, “This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach, a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach. These matters should be handled at a “personal and local level.”
Warbelow said she was “extraordinarily disappointed. The DOJ should be a champion for all students’ civil rights and by signaling a willingness to be bound by the injunction nationwide they are certainly signaling they aren’t intending to pursue civil rights for transgender people.”
Warbelow noted transgender students are not prohibited from filing a lawsuit if they experience discrimination.
The Justice Department declined comment on the filing.
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