Transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms that match their chosen gender identity, the Obama administration is going to tell all U.S. public school districts on Friday.
The letter, signed by Justice and Education department leaders, will give guidance to school leaders to ensure that no student is discriminated against.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement issued late Thursday that will accompanying the directive being sent to school districts on Friday.
“This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies,” Lynch said.
The letter will say that public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.
The directive does not have the force of law but contains an implicit threat that schools that do not abide by the administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.
The administration’s directive will also describe that schools may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate or other document before treating them according to their chosen gender identity.
The move comes as the Obama administration is suing the state of North Carolina over its so-called bathroom bill, saying it breaks federal anti-discrimination laws.
North Carolina legislators passed a state law in March that requires transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth instead of the gender with which they identify.
By passing the law, North Carolina became the first state in the country to ban people from using multiple occupancy restrooms or changing rooms in public buildings and schools that do not match the sex on their birth certificate.
Lynch on Monday called the North Carolina law “state-sponsored discrimination” that reminds her of a time when blacks were barred from public facilities and states could dictate who was allowed to marry.
The federal government has named the state, its Republican Governor Pat McCrory, the Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina — which receives millions in federal funds — in the lawsuit.
“This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens,” Lynch said, stressing that the law has caused “emotional harm, mental anguish, distress, humiliation and indignity” to transgender people.
‘Being a bully’
Earlier Monday, North Carolina sued the federal government to keep the law in place.
McCrory said Washington is “being a bully… trying to define gender identity, and there is no clear identification or definition of gender identity.”
McCrory and other supporters of the measure defend it as necessary to protect privacy in public bathrooms and guard against men using women’s restrooms to spy and prey on women.
Lynch said the state invented a problem that does not exist as an excuse to discriminate and harass people.
In addition to possibly losing federal funds, North Carolina could also lose hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from businesses that are canceling plans to open offices in the state.
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Americans are divided over which public restrooms should be used by transgender people.
The poll, released late last month, showed 44 percent saying people should use them according to their biological sex and 39 percent saying they should be used according to the gender with which they identify.
Age was a major factor in the issue, the survey found.
Americans aged 18 to 29 favored letting transgender people use the restroom of their identity by a 2-to-1 ratio. Among Americans aged 60 or older, the ratio was 2-to-1 in reverse with people saying restroom use should be mandated by the gender on one’s birth certificate.