Minnesota leaders react to Obama’s transgender restroom ruling
ST. PAUL -- The Obama administration weighed in Friday on which bathrooms transgender people are allowed to use -- a heated debate that has stretched from Mississippi to North Carolina to Minnesota. A letter sent to schools Friday from the U.S. D...
ST. PAUL -- The Obama administration weighed in Friday on which bathrooms transgender
people are allowed to use - a heated debate that has stretched from Mississippi to North Carolina to Minnesota.
A letter sent to schools Friday from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice says transgender students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The letter comes as the Justice Department battles North Carolina leaders in court on the issue. That state recently passed a law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex they were born.
It was a welcome federal decree for many Minnesota Democrats, including members of Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet. Dayton has said he is “appalled” by efforts to legislate the bathrooms people use and banned some state travel to North Carolina after the bill was approved there.
Brenda Cassellius, state education commissioner, said students deserve “safe and supportive” schools where they can “thrive and succeed.” Cassellius noted state lawmakers’ efforts to strengthen Minnesota’s anti-bullying law in 2014.
“Minnesota has come a long way the past several years to create schools that are welcoming and inclusive,” Cassellius said. “I applaud the guidance from the U.S. Department of Education that clarifies what we’ve believed all along - that gender identity is protected under Title IX, and that all students have a right to attend a school that is safe and discrimination-free.”
Republicans in the Minnesota House debated a bill earlier this legislative session that would have required people to use bathrooms that match their sex at birth. The informational hearing was contentious, with opponents arguing the proposal was discriminatory and supporters saying it was a matter of privacy.
The legislation had 34 sponsors but never received an official hearing. A letter in support of the North Carolina law, signed by 35 Republican Minnesota lawmakers, was sent to the state’s governor Pat McCrory in April.
Asked about the Obama administration’s letter Friday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Stafford Township, said the issue was best left to local decision makers. Daudt was not among the House Republicans supporting proposed bathroom restrictions.
“I haven’t reviewed that letter, but I don’t think any decision that comes from the federal government dictating what each school must do is probably a good idea. I think we should leave those decisions up to our school districts,” Daudt said.
The federal education and justice departments described the letter as “significant guidance” to help schools comply with U.S. laws that protect students from discrimination in public schools. Schools that do not comply risk losing federal funding.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “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.”
National reaction to the letter ranged from support to cries of federal government overreach and threats of lawsuits.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.