Federal judge in Texas blocks President Obama's new trangender policy for schools

The Texas judge's ruling halts the nationwide trans-friendly school guidelines just as a new year is set to begin

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published August 22, 2016 5:12PM (EDT)

Trump administration pulls back from transgender bathroom lawsuits (AP)
Trump administration pulls back from transgender bathroom lawsuits (AP)

Months after the Obama administration's historic new directive was issued, and the evening before a new school year begins in Texas, a federal judge in Fort Worth sided with the state and 12 other states who argued that federal agencies exceeded their authority with the trans-friendly school guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor's 38-page order prevents the U.S. Department of Education,The guidance from implementing guidance that required school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restroom and locker facilities to use. The judge also ruled that the guidance failed to follow the law requiring that it get input from the public before drafting new regulations.

The lawsuit, filed by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued that the guidance from the White House, issued in May, would turn schools "into laboratories for a massive social experiment."

“We are pleased that the court ruled against the Obama administration’s latest illegal federal overreach,” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas said in a statement on Monday. “This president is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform. That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect states and school districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.”

O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected the Obama administration’s assertion that the rights of transgender people in public schools and workplaces are protected under Title IX , the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools:

It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex [in Title IX] meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.


Without question, permitting educational institutions to provide separate housing to male and female students, and separate educational instruction concerning human sexuality, was to protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.

The decision is at least the third legal setback for transgender rights in federal court this month, following milestone achievements in gay rights including same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide in 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a lower court ruling requiring a Virginia school district to allow a biologically female transgender student to use the boy's restroom on Aug. 3. And last Thursday, a federal judge in Detroit upheld the firing of a transgender funeral home employee, ruling that "neither transgender status nor gender identity are protected classes" under anti-discrimination laws.

"A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination," said a statement from five groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that have filed "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of transgender students.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Federal Judge President Obama Texas Trans Bathroom Panic