NASHVILLE — An agency that oversees an estimated 9,200 federal buildings and offices across the U.S. says those facilities must allow transgender employees and visitors to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
UPDATE: A federal judge has blocked the Obama administration's transgender restroom ruling. Read more here.
The General Services Administration's bulletin affects U.S. courthouses and federal prisons as well as offices such as the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The rule was published Thursday in the Federal Register.
It states: "Federal agencies occupying space under the jurisdiction, custody, or control of GSA must allow individuals to use restroom facilities and related areas consistent with their gender identity."
GSA notes that in recent years a number of agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice "have all interpreted prohibitions against sex discrimination under various Federal civil rights laws and regulations to encompass discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., isn't happy with the rule issued by President Barack Obama's administration, calling it "yet another example of overreach by the federal government."
"The Obama Administration should not force their agenda onto citizens with different values," Fleischmann added in a statement to the Times Free Press on Friday.
Chris Sanders, with the Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, applauded the GSA rule.
"All citizens should be able to access their government," Sanders said. "The rule change helps transgender people overcome another barrier in employment and public accommodations."
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a religious-conservative advocacy group, questioned the action.
"Since this new federal regulation says 'self-identification' must be recognized and allowed, that means no woman has any real grounds on which to ask whether an obvious man should be in her bathroom," Fowler said.
"How could she question what a man might subjectively be thinking in his head?" said Fowler, a former state senator who represented Signal Mountain. "He can say whatever protects him from trouble and no one can objectively say he's lying. This is not safe for women and puts political correctness above public safety. When will Congress put a stop to this nonsense?"
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., had no immediate comment about the new rule.
Gail Rymer, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said in an email that the federal utility "complies with all applicable federal regulations. Transgender employees and visitors to TVA facilities may use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. We are committed to ensuring an inclusive environment for employees and visitors at all TVA facilities."
The GSA policy does not apply to the National Parks Service nor Congress, according to multiple news reports. The Times Free Press was unable to obtain a list from the GSA on what departments and agencies were included or excluded.
GSA's bulletin states that, "consistent with guidance" from the the departments of Justice and Education, "the self-identification of gender identity by any individual is sufficient to establish which restroom or other single-sex facilities should be used."
Citing those agencies as well as similar edicts from the EEOC and Office of Personnel Management, the bulletin also states "transgender individuals do not have to be undergoing or have completed any medical procedure, nor can they be required to show proof of surgery to be treated in accordance with their gender identity and obtain access to the restroom corresponding with their gender identity."
Moreover, the bulletin says, federal agencies "may not restrict only transgender individuals to only use single-occupancy restrooms, such as family or accessible facilities open to all genders.
"However," the bulletin adds, "Federal agencies may make individual-user options available to all individuals who voluntarily seek additional privacy."
The issue of transgender bathroom use exploded in Tennessee and elsewhere this year after the U.S. Education Department issued guidance saying transgender students may use restrooms and other facilities based on their gender identity.
Tennessee lawmakers' push to force people to use facilities matching their sex at birth was withdrawn after Gov. Bill Haslam and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned the state could lose federal funding.
Later, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama joined eight other states to sue the Obama administration, charging federal officials are "running roughshod over commonsense policies." They asked a federal judge to toss out the Justice and Education directives and stop the administration from cutting off federal education funds.
Other states also have sued. And the U.S. Supreme Court, which is short a justice, just this month temporarily blocked a court order that had allowed a transgender boy to use the boys' bathroom in a Virginia high school.
Many expect the education/state bathroom issue to be ultimately be resolved by the nation's top court.
Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this report.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on twitter at @AndySher1.