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Texas and 10 Other States Escalate Attacks on Trans People with “Political Stunt” Bathroom Lawsuit

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On Wednesday, 11 states sued the Obama administration over its recent directive requiring that public schools grant transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. Nine of the 11 states are run by Republican governors. The lawsuit alleges, “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 Human Rights Campaign responded to the Texas-led lawsuit by calling it “a shameful attack on transgender youth across the state and the nation.” The Texas-led lawsuit comes shortly after the Obama administration sued the state of North Carolina over the state’s anti-transgender law HB 2, that nullifies ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination and forces transgender people to use the bathroom that matches what they were assigned on their birth certificate. We speak to Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU.

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AMY GOODMAN: “True Trans” by Against Me!, whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, burned her birth certificate on stage in North Carolina in May after House Bill 2, known as the bathroom bill, was passed. Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Eleven states are suing the Obama administration over its recent directive saying students have the right under federal law to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Nine of the 11 states have Republican governors. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the lawsuit Wednesday.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL KEN PAXTON: Two hours ago, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice regarding their directives that open up all school bathrooms to people of both sexes. We’re taking this action to protect Harrold Independent School District, which on Monday night fulfilled a responsibility to their community by adopting a bathroom policy that puts the safety of their students first.

AMY GOODMAN: The Texas-led lawsuit comes shortly after the Obama administration sued the state of North Carolina over the state’s anti-transgender law HB 2, that nullifies ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination and forces transgender people to use the bathroom that matches what they were assigned on their birth certificate.

For more, we’re joined by Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of 11 states suing the Obama administration.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, well, it is very significant insofar as it’s another escalation of really severe discrimination and anti-trans rhetoric from lawmakers across the country, and here we have Ken Paxton making a statement yesterday about this lawsuit. But the lawsuit really is a political stunt. In many ways, it’s very unlikely that the lawsuit will go anywhere. It was an opportunity for them to get together and say that they disapprove of transgender individuals. They use the term “gender identity” in scare quotes. They don’t refer to transgender people at all. So, when we’re thinking about this as a battle between the Obama administration and the states, that’s playing out, but what’s also playing out is this horrible discrimination that the trans young people are caught in the middle of and that are going to be subjected to.

And I just want to note, in terms of Ken Paxton remark—his remarks, even though—he just is continually telling lies. And the first lie is that somehow the guidance from the Obama administration gets rid of sex-segregated bathrooms altogether, which it does not do at all. All it does is say that transgender students can use the bathroom that corresponds with who they are. And I think it’s important to correct the misperception that this was a directive. It wasn’t a directive. It was guidance from the administration. And the guidance is nonbinding. And it just lets schools know what it means to treat transgender students consistent with Title IX. And it was not binding, and it is not a directive. It is guidance, and it should be followed. In my opinion, it’s the only possible interpretation of Title IX. But there have been many distortions around what it was and what it does.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Chase, what about the legislation regarding HB 2 in North Carolina? What’s your response to that? And what do you think is likely to happen?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, also in North Carolina we’re seeing—you know, HB 2 was passed in a special session earlier this year. Governor McCrory was given several days by the federal government to bring North Carolina law into compliance with very well-established federal law. He did not do so, and instead filed his own lawsuit against the United States. The United States in turn filed a lawsuit against North Carolina. There’s now five lawsuits pending in North Carolina. And so we have five lawsuits in North Carolina. We have this lawsuit brought by governors, then other lawmakers, from 11 states. And again, you know, this is—this is the government telling young transgender people that they are so unworthy of sharing space with their peers that they are going to waste taxpayer money to file these lawsuits.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said Republican lawmakers in his state went too far when they passed the sweeping anti-LGBT law this year. He added they need to rein it in, before a judge does it for them. The significance of Senator Burr saying this?

CHASE STRANGIO: You know, I think—you know, for a while there, we were hearing reasonable responses from Republican lawmakers. Earlier, in February, Governor Daugaard of South Dakota vetoed a bill that would have been similar to HB 2, though narrower in scope, saying, “You know, we don’t need to do this. This is a, you know, solution in search of a problem.” And I think over the last several months we’ve seen things go very extreme in the wrong direction, but there are still lawmakers who are reasonable.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Justice Department had filed a complaint against the state of North Carolina over HB 2.

ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH: Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades, and others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives that you were born to live—to lead. But no matter how isolated, no matter how afraid and no matter how alone you may feel today, know this: that the Department of Justice and, indeed, the entire Obama administration want you to know that we see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. And please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on the promise of equal rights for all. And we have always managed to move closer to that ideal, little by little, day by day. And it may not be easy, but we will get there together.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It’s been called the Martin Luther King moment of the transgender community. Chase Strangio, the significance of what she said? And also, is funding tied to the—you say it’s not a directive, it’s guidance to the states?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, so, first, with respect to Attorney General Lynch, those remarks, they were very powerful. You know, she brought in the force of the federal government. She affirmed the trans community, who has been under attack. But she’s also, you know, running a Department of Justice that is incarcerating Chelsea Manning, fighting her access to healthcare. You know, the Obama administration is responsible for the deportation of so many in the trans community. So, as we value and praise that, it’s also important to remember all of the other policies that have an impact on the LGBT community.

AMY GOODMAN: And will funding be tied to the guidance?

CHASE STRANGIO: You know, violations of Title IX do risk funding to schools. And so, hopefully, as states continue to dig in, we’ll see the administration take action.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU, we thank you for being with us.

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