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​States push back on transgender bathroom use

The Obama administration has issued a directive to all public school districts, saying transgender students should have access to bathrooms that match their gender identity. Refusal to comply could result in schools losing federal funding.
The Obama administration has issued a directi... 02:08

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere vowed defiance -- and other conservative states could follow suit -- after the Obama administration told public schools across the U.S. on Friday to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The federal government's guidance was met with tearful praise from parents of transgender students.

The Obama administration put out a new set of... 03:54

"It's heartbreaking that these kids are losing their lives because they can't be accepted," Hope Tyler, who has a transgender son at a Raleigh high school, said in reference to suicides among transgender people. "Somebody has to speak for the kids."

The directive from the U.S. Justice and Education Departments represents an escalation in the fast-moving dispute over what is becoming the civil rights issue of the day.

One by one, conservative political leaders thundered against it and President Barack Obama.

"This is the most outrageous example yet of the Obama administration forcing its liberal agenda on states that roundly reject it," said Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, CBS affiliate WJTV reported. "Public schools' restroom policies should not be shaped by federal coercion."

The guidance was issued just days after the Justice Department and North Carolina sued each other over a state law requiring transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. The law applies to schools and many other places.

A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access adorns the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. The hotel installed the restroom signage designed by artist Peregrine Honig last month after North Carolina's "bathroom law" gained national attention, positioning the state at the center of a debate over equality, privacy and religious freedom. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

While supporters say the measure is needed to protect women and children from sexual predators, the Justice Department and others argue the threat is practically nonexistent and the law discriminatory.

The guidance issued on Friday is not legally binding, since the question of whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people has not been definitively answered by the courts and may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

But schools that refuse to comply could be hit with civil rights lawsuits from the government and could face a cutoff of federal aid to education.

Obama administration's directive on transgend... 05:53

Texas' lieutenant governor said the state is prepared to forfeit billions rather than let the Obama administration dictate restroom policy for its 5.2 million students.

"We will not be blackmailed by the president's 30 pieces of silver," Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

Rodney Cavness, superintendent of the Port Neches-Groves school district in Texas, told CBS affiliate KFDM in Beaumont: "When I get that letter, I'll throw it away."

Similarly, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said schools should disregard the directive, which he derided as "social engineering."

Governors and top leaders in other conservative states railed against the guidance but stopped short of telling schools to ignore it.

"The last time I checked, the United States is not ruled by a king who can bypass Congress and the courts and force school-age boys and girls to share the same bathrooms and locker rooms," North Carolina's Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said.

In this Oct. 21, 2015 file photo, a man urges people to vote against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance outside an early voting center in Houston. AP

And Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said: "It is difficult to imagine a more absurd federal overreach into a local issue."

However, Democratic Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Jay Inslee of Washington praised the Obama directive, saying it was consistent with their own policies.

"I applaud the Obama administration for establishing policies that will better provide all our children an opportunity to thrive," Inslee said.

As the White House puts pressure on public sc... 02:26

North Carolina State Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican, is among those concerned about the letter sent to schools. He told CBS affiliate WBTV in Charlotte he has received emails from parents worried about their children's safety while at school.

"There certainly could be a safety issue," Horn said. "I am not ringing the bell of fear, but I have to be concerned. Kids are kids, we do crazy things."

The politician thinks the federal government could spend its time with other matters instead of putting attention on bathroom stalls.

"Certainly wish they would express at least as much interest in with what's happening to underserved kids, failing schools, violence in schools, making sure kids get a great education," he said.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District is grappling with the issue after an incident involving a transgender student, WBTV reported.

An Olympic High School student who was born female but identifies as male recently had to use the bathroom and couldn't wait for the accommodations that were planned, so he went into the boy's restroom.

The White House is urging public schools to f... 00:27

The student pulled his pants down to use the bathroom as a male student walked in. The other student immediately left after seeing the transgender student.

Parents quickly emailed the school district, concerned that if the wrong student walked in, there could have been trouble. WBTV was told administrators are tightening up the plan and talked to the student.

The federal guidance may portend more court fights over transgender bathroom access.

Already, officials from eight states -- West Virginia, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Maine and North Carolina -- signed on to a brief in recent days asking a federal appeals court to re-hear a case in which it sided with a Virginia transgender student seeking to use the boys' bathroom.

The new guidance says public schools must treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records indicate a different sex.

Some school systems around the country already accommodate transgender students when it comes to bathroom use.

North Carolina and the federal government wil... 02:01

Nearly half the high schools in the 53,000-student Seattle district have gender-neutral restrooms, and students can also use the bathrooms in the nurses' office, spokeswoman Stacy Howard said.

The National School Boards Association has published guidelines for its members in dealing with transgender students. It stops short of telling them exactly what to do, instead advising them to work with their attorneys to determine the best course amid a "shifting legal landscape."

Francisco Negron, chief attorney for the organization, said there is a "disconnect" between what is happening in various states and what the federal government is demanding, "and school districts are caught in the middle."

Tyler, whose 15-year-old transgender son attends the Raleigh high school, said she cried when she heard about the Obama administration directive.

"It means a lot to our kid. People don't realize that these kids in schools weren't having any bathroom issues before," she said.

Since the passage of North Carolina's bathroom law, Tyler's son has been doing his schoolwork under a special arrangement that allows him to take classes mostly from home.

Hunter Schafer shows parents Mac and Katy some of her artwork at their home in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, May 13, 2016. The 17-year-old transgender youth, who was designated a boy on her birth certificate, is a plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit against the state. AP Photo/Allen G. Breed

Before the new law, Hunter Schafer, 17, had no problems being accepted by her peers at the North Carolina School of the Arts, a residential high school in Winston-Salem where she has lived in the girls' dormitory.

With the passage of the law, Schafer said she found herself "just having to decide do I break the law, or do I put myself in this highly uncomfortable or highly dangerous situation in the men's restroom?"

Eventually, the school gave her her own private restroom.

Her father, Mac Schafer of Raleigh, was elated to hear the new guidance from the Obama administration.

"As a parent, some of your core instincts are protection for your child," he said. "To know that the federal government is pushing for respect and safe space and rights for Hunter is thrilling."

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