Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton leveled sharp criticism against the Obama administration’s directive to the nation’s schools that they must make accommodations for transgender students, calling it a “gun to the head” that threatens the independence of school districts to handle the issue how they see fit.
Paxton, who has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging its position, railed Thursday against the guidance to schools that directs them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, he said the guidance, under threat of a loss of federal funding for noncompliance, is federal overreach that puts students at risk.
Ten other states joined the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in Texas. Paxton this week asked the court to allow schools to disregard the guidance until the case is decided, hoping to block it from going into effect next school year.
“There are a host of reasons why allowing 14-year-old boys into girls’ locker rooms is a bad idea,” Paxton said.
Paxton spoke alongside Roger Severino, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, and attorney Kyle Duncan, all three of them assailing the Obama administration’s approach to transgender rights.
The panel comes as lawmakers, school administrators, parents and the courts are debating how schools and the public should accommodate transgender people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates say barring transgender people from the facilities that align with their gender identities is a violation of their civil rights that threatens their well-being. But those who support such rules say they are necessary to safeguard privacy and traditional values.
“Things have moved so far, so fast and so surprisingly, and not in a good way,” Severino said in his opening remarks. “We’re at an inflection point in America, and it’s all related to the idea of sexual identity, sexual morality and the role of faith in the public square.”
The panelists disagreed with the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in public schools. The administration has said that the law bars discrimination based on gender identity and, by extension, protects the right of transgender students to use whichever bathroom they choose.
Duncan is representing the North Carolina legislators who passed H.B. 2, a state law that requires people to use public facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates. Duncan said the Obama administration has misinterpreted federal law to extend protections to transgender people.
“The whole concept of sex has been turned on its head,” Duncan said.
Paxton rebutted the Obama administration’s argument that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students in public schools.
“The federal government’s guidance letter in May relies on Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination to conclude that students can use the bathroom or shower of the gender they feel like. In short, Obama thinks that sex is the same as gender,” Paxton said, going on to quote a classic comedy film. “But as Inigo Montoya told Vizzini in ‘The Princess Bride’: ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ ”
Paxton argued that Congress, when it passed Title IX in 1972, intended to bar discrimination based on biological sex, not gender identity.
“Congress has understood sex to be biological and gender to be cultural,” Paxton said. “But the president has a habit of going it alone when Congress fails to do what he wants. True to form, his agencies have done just that.”
Paxton said the Obama administration has done more than just issue guidance on the issue. He said the administration has gone outside its authority and rewritten rules without going through the proper procedure, pressing states into abiding by a new regulation that Congress has not legislated.
“Over 18 percent of our Texas education budget is composed of federal funds,” Paxton said. “That is clearly a gun to the head.”
Texas schools, he said, are “all worried about losing their money.”