WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration is working on a new set of directives on the use of school bathrooms by transgender students, the White House said Tuesday.
The announcement alarmed LGBT groups and parents across the country who have urged President Donald Trump to safeguard Obama-era guidelines allowing students to use school restrooms that match their gender identity, not their assigned gender at birth.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not provide any details on the new guidelines that are being prepared by the Justice Department, but said Trump has long held that such matters should be left to the states, not the federal government, to decide.
"I think that all you have to do is look at what the president's view has been for a long time, that this is not something the federal government should be involved in, this is a states' rights issue," Spicer said.
The guidance, issued by the Obama administration in May, held that transgender students can access restrooms and participate in school athletic teams according with the gender they identify with. Schools were also instructed to treat students in line with their expressed gender identity without requiring any medical proof.
While the move was hailed by rights organizations, it was attacked by conservative groups, which called it federal overreach and an infringement on the personal space and safety of all other students. In August, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against those guidelines based on lawsuits from 13 states.
The National Center for Transgender Equality said Tuesday that even without former President Barack Obama's guidelines, the federal law, called Title IX, which they are meant to clarify, would still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation. Still, rescinding those directives would put children in harm's way, the group said.
"Such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House," NCTE said in a statement.
Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, an LGBT advocacy group, strongly condemned plans to amend the Obama-era instructions. At the same time, Tiven stressed that the guidance wasn't legally binding and was merely a tool to help school districts comply with the federal law. Rescinding the guidelines won't change the law, but will make states and districts more free in interpreting it and acting on it. As a result, she argued, there will be confusion and school districts will be more open to lawsuits.
"The important thing to understand is that it doesn't change the underlying law, but it's an invitation to harm the most vulnerable kids in school," Tiven said.
But Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama guidelines were unlawful, as Title IX protects students based on their sex, not their gender identity. He also said that those directives violated the rights of other students, especially girls who may have suffered from sexual abuse in the past and do not want to be exposed to male anatomy. "It's understandable when a 16-year-old girl might not want an anatomical male in the shower or the locker room," Anderson said.
He said that students, parents and teachers should work out "win-win" solutions at the local level, such as equipping schools with single-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms or allowing students to access the faculty lounge.
"We can find a way in which the privacy and safety of transgender students is respected while also respecting the privacy and safety of all other students," Anderson said.
About 150,000 youth - 0.7 percent- between the ages of 13 and 17 in the United States identify as transgender, according to a study by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.