Georgia joins lawsuit over transgender students in schools

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia has joined other states in a lawsuit against the recent federal directive about transgender students in public bathrooms and locker rooms.

The lawsuit announced Wednesday also includes Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.. The challenge comes in response to a federal “guidance” to U.S. schools this month to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. It threatened loss of federal funding and the possibility of lawsuits for schools that didn’t comply.

“The guidance letter is yet another example of the President’s unconstitutional overreach,” Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a statement. “The Constitution gives only Congress the power to write and rewrite laws. Threatening to withhold taxpayer dollars from schools if they don’t comply with this new and legally unsound mandate is unconstitutional.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made a similar comment in a live video news conference. "This is an entire re-write of law, and that is constitutionally the purview of Congress and not the president of the United State," Paxton said during the conference Wednesday, which was aired by the Austin-American Statesmen newspaper. "They don't have the authority to just change law."

Former school superintendent John Zauner said local school districts can handle transgender issues without federal guidance. Schools can offer a variety of options, such as letting a student use a private bathroom in the school office, he said. “You usually work with a child and the parent to come to an arrangement,” said Zauner, now the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

The problem with blurring gender lines around the use of bathrooms, he and others have said, is the possibility of rambunctious behavior among teenaged boys. They’re likely to storm the girls’ bathroom if given the chance, he said. “When I was in high school, boys did crazy things like that.”

He said the issue arises infrequently, more in some areas of Georgia than others.

But advocates for transgender students believe they are under attack socially, and need the federal government's support.

Eris Sage Lovell, 18, a senior at Cobb County's Walton High who is transgender, said soon after the guidance was released that it could make it easier for transgender students to adjust to school.

Born a boy, she mostly uses the girls restroom, but there’s also a gender non-specific restroom she can use. Lovell said when she was still “largely masculine” a teacher once made her go to boys bathroom because it was closer to the classroom.

“It’s an incredible improvement,” Lovell said of the federal support.

Conservative states had vowed defiance since the Justice Department handed down the guidance.

Gov. Nathan Deal said last week that he would work with other state officials "to protect the interests of Georgia's children from this abuse of federal executive authority." State schools Superintendent Richard Woods said last week that he saw "safety and privacy concerns" with letting students "of different genders" share bathrooms and locker rooms.

But U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said “there is no room in our schools for discrimination.”

The lawsuit accuses the Obama administration of “running roughshod over commonsense policies” that protect children. It asks a judge to declare the directive unlawful.