Texas and 10 other states sued the federal government Wednesday to challenge the Obama administration’s directive that local schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity.
Harrold Independent School District, a small rural district near Wichita Falls, joined the lawsuit after its school board on Monday approved a policy limiting bathroom use to each student’s sex as listed on their birth certificate.
“We didn’t start the fight, but we will carry it to them,” Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt said during a Wednesday news conference in Austin that was led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “We passed a policy in order to protect the safety, dignity and security of the children.”
Republican officials praised the lawsuit as a fitting response to an overreaching federal government, but civil rights groups decried the action as a misguided attack on transgender students.
“The real targets are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom,” said Rebecca Robertson with the ACLU of Texas.
Earlier this month, Obama administration officials directed school systems nationwide to create policies that would grant bathroom access to transgender students based on their gender identity or risk losing federal grants.
“For us, it would be around $117,000,” said Thweatt, whose district includes 100 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Asked if that included any transgender students, he said: “We have none we know of, right now.”
Paxton said he was pressing the lawsuit because he believed Congress, not the Justice and Education Departments, should establish policies related to transgender bathrooms.
“We’re here to fight this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to,” Paxton said.
The lawsuit asked the U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls to declare the administration’s bathroom directive illegal and invalid because it was issued without the proper notice and comment period and because it arbitrarily redefined sex, “long and widely accepted to be a biological category, to include ‘gender identity,’” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also was joined by Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.
Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking Wednesday at a Round Rock Barnes & Noble store where he was signing copies of his book, “Broken But Unbowed,” said he didn’t advise the attorney general to file the lawsuit.
But Abbott, who as attorney general made a habit of suing Washington to curb federal power — a practice his successor is emulating — told about 200 people at the book signing that the Obama administration’s directive was “trampling the United States Constitution.”
Steve Rudner, a Dallas attorney who chairs Equality Texas, which advocates on behalf of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans, predicted the lawsuit would backfire and lead the U.S. Supreme Court to strengthen the rights of transgender individuals in Texas and beyond — and at great expense to the state.
“This is brought to you by the same people who just a year ago said the world would stop spinning if gay people got married,” Rudner said. “Gay people are getting married, and the world had not stopped spinning.”
When the latest controversy ends, he said, “transgender people are going to pee where they have been peeing, and the world will continue to spin.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised Paxton’s lawsuit, saying it would thwart a disruptive edict “that ignores both common sense and common decency.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the federal policy was dangerous, opening school bathrooms to members of the opposite sex pretending to be transgender.
“It once again demonstrates that Obama is more devoted to radical social engineering than to the democratic process and the separation of powers,” Cruz said.
Includes material from staff writer Nicole Barrios.