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Oklahoma attorney general says state will “vigorously defend” itself against transgender bathroom guidelines

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Obama administration issued guidance Friday directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

A joint letter from the Departments of Education and Justice went to schools Friday with guidelines to ensure that “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment,” the Obama administration said Thursday.

The announcement comes amid heated debate over transgender rights in schools and public life, which includes a legal standoff between the administration and North Carolina over its controversial House Bill 2. The guidance goes beyond the bathroom issue, touching upon privacy rights, education records and sex-segregated athletics, all but guaranteeing transgender students the right to identify in school as they choose.

“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. “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.”

The letter does not carry the force of law but the message was clear: Fall in line or face loss of federal funding.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said the letter comes in response to request from schools and parents seeking guidance.

“This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX,” he said. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

On Friday afternoon, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, regarding the advisory.

“We have reviewed the “significant guidance letter” issued today. Despite contending that it “does not add requirements to applicable law,” this letter most definitely changes the law in that it takes the unprecedented step of redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity.” Your citations to U.S. Supreme Court precedent and references to lower court cases and administrative action are disingenuous at best.

Further, you have forced this definition on parents, students, and communities because you have deemed unjustifiable any discomfort that they may express. Your determination thus elevates the status of transgender students over those who would define their sex based on biology and who would seek to have their definition honored in the most private of places. Indeed, those latter students and their families cannot even seek reassurance that a transgender student’s self-definition is not premised on whim or caprice because you have disavowed the school’s ability to seek any form of documentation regarding the transgender child’s self-definition.

Not only does this “significant guidance letter” attempt to redefine for all Americans their most fundamental beliefs about who they are, it compels schools to join with you in enforcing this new definition. By conditioning the receipt of federal funds on compliance with the “significant guidance letter,” schools have been given an ultimatum: take it or lose it. As you must know, this leaves many schools without any real choice. You have thus transformed the federal “carrot and stick” approach to school funding into “all stick.”

We believe that your actions today are unlawful and that they represent the most egregious administrative overreach to date. You have taken a public policy issue that must, by our constitutional design, be worked out in the laboratory of democracy and enforced it on all people. And you have done so through a misuse of the spending power.

Please be advised that if you attempt to enforce this “significant guidance letter” on schools in the State of Oklahoma, we will vigorously defend the State’s interests.”