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Reaction To White House Directive On Transgender Bathrooms


A letter is going out later today from the Obama administration to every school district in the country. It says schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This move was quickly welcomed by Mara Keisling. She's the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. She said she hopes that parents can set their biases aside as the new rules are implemented.

MARA KEISLING: There's all sorts of kinds of kids that other people's parents don't feel comfortable with, and that's not how we decide who gets to learn safely in school. All children get to learn safely in school.

GREENE: And let's hear another voice now. It's Matt Sharp. He's an attorney with the faith-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has opposed similar policies in public schools across the country. Mr. Sharp, good morning.

MATT SHARP: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for things coming on the program. We appreciate it. Let me just ask you - I mean, the administration, this letter going out this morning. The real foundation of it is this federal law called Title IX that prohibits sex discrimination in schools. And the administration is saying this protects transgender people based on their gender identity. Tell me your reaction to that reading of the law.

SHARP: Well, it's completely wrong. For over 40 years now, Congress and courts that have looked at Title IX have all consistently said Title IX was meant to combat sex discrimination. It's never been interpreted to include gender identity, and so the idea was always to ensure equal opportunities for men and women. Importantly, Title IX was specifically written to protect student privacy. It allows schools to have separate restrooms and locker rooms and dormitories on the basis of sex. So what the Obama administration is doing here is essentially rewriting the law, ignoring Congress, ignoring the normal process they're supposed to go through to force their agenda on schools across the country.

GREENE: Well, what would you tell a family with a transgender child who identifies as a girl or a boy and believes that their girl or boy is going to school and deserves those protections under Title IX and believes very much in what the Obama administration is doing and wants their child to be protected and not discriminated against?

SHARP: Well, their child should absolutely be protected against bullying, harassment or anything else. And we've seen schools across the country do a great job of protecting every student under their care. But part of that duty of protection is also protecting the right of privacy. And so we're hearing from lots of students across the country and parents saying this violates our right to privacy when we're forced to share locker rooms, showers and restrooms with someone of the opposite sex. And so that's actually what motivated, I think, over 130 parents and students in Chicago to actually sue the federal government because they came in and forced the school to open up their restrooms and locker rooms to the opposite sex.

GREENE: Can you understand, though, that the family or parents of a transgender child who believes this is a delicate situation, but that their - the rights of their child might - you know, might be more important than sort of another child having to sort of get used a situation that he or she might find, you know, a little sensitive in a bathroom?

SHARP: Well, but it's not about one student's rights being more important than another. It's about protecting every student's rights to privacy. And so what we've seen schools do is offer accommodations to any student, including transgender students, that are not comfortable with communal restrooms, allowing them to use single-stall restrooms or whatever's available so that they've got a choice. But they also have a duty to protect every other student's constitutional right to privacy when the courts across the country have recognized as implicated when you've got restrooms and locker rooms and why Title IX was drafted the way it is. So schools have to protect that. And what they're trying to do is make sure that every student has a place where they can use restroom, change and shower and feel comfortable without having to break down our traditions of having separate restrooms on the basis of biological sex.

GREENE: Let me just - you're representing 51 families in a school district in Illinois, which allows students to use bathrooms according to gender identity, and these families are fighting that policy. Can you tell me the story of just maybe one family and exactly on a personal level what they're objecting to?

SHARP: Absolutely. And so we've got several families there that the Obama administration came in and forced the District 211 to allow a biological boy into the female's restrooms. And so these girls are telling stories about how when they're in their locker room changing for PE, they're now uncomfortable knowing that a boy can walk in at any time under the school's new policy. They talk about how one girl in particular does not change out of her gym clothes but rather wears them all day long, wears them after going to gym, after getting them dirty and nasty through PE class and then just puts her clothes on top of it because she's so nervous about the possibility of having to change and shower and whatnot in front of this boy. And we hear stories like that across the country of these girls speaking out and saying, look, we don't want this student to be bullied or harassed or anything, but we also want our privacy protected. And we just want to know that when we go into these lockers and shower rooms that we're not going to be forced to share with someone of the opposite biological sex. That's all these girls are asking for.

GREENE: Matt Sharp is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal advocacy group. Mr. Sharp, thanks for your time this morning.

SHARP: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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