Judge in Texas temporarily blocks Obama’s transgender rules


A Texas ruling blocks President Obama’s guidelines on allowing transgender students to use bathrooms based on gender identity.
A Texas ruling blocks President Obama’s guidelines on allowing transgender students to use bathrooms based on gender identity. Toby Talbot

A federal judge in Texas on Monday blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

The court’s ruling isn’t likely to affect places in Idaho that already have guidelines, such as the Boise School District.

In a temporary injunction signed Sunday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the federal education law known as Title IX “is not ambiguous” about sex being defined as “the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.”

The judge said his order, which applies nationwide, was not about the policy issues of transgender rights but his conclusion that federal officials simply did not follow rules that required an opportunity for comment before such directives are issued.

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy … while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” he wrote.

Gov. Butch Otter, who criticized the guidelines when they came out in May, supports the ruling.

“I am pleased that a federal judge has seen the Obama administration’s move for what it is — a coercive and cynical attempt to usurp local authority for a hopelessly misguided effort at social engineering in our public schools,” Otter said in a statement. “This injunction gives me hope that common sense may yet prevail in a case that puts a third of our education funding in jeopardy.”

What’s it mean for Idaho? Little change for schools that already have guidelines. In a statement to schools earlier this year, Boise School District officials wrote that “under federal civil rights law, the district is required to provide access to public facilities consistent with the student’s gender identity.”

Blaine County School District voted last week for a policy that allows students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity, the Idaho Mountain Express reported.

The court ruling was the second recent setback for transgender advocates. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Virginia school board can block for now a transgender male from using the boys’ restroom while justices decide whether to fully intervene.

Texas and 12 other states challenged the White House directive as unconstitutional.

The judge also sided with Republican state leaders who argued that schools should have been allowed to weigh in before the White House directive was announced in May.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, had argued that halting the Obama order before school began was necessary because districts risked losing federal education dollars if they did not comply. Federal officials did not explicitly make that threat upon issuing the directive, although they also never ruled out the possibility.

“This president is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people and is threating to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform,” Paxton said. “That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect states and school districts.”

Paul Castillo is a Dallas attorney for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, which had urged the court to let the White House directive stand. He said the latest ruling was a continuation of attacks on transgender people.

“I think today is going to be a hard day for transgender students,” Castillo said. “The decision is certainly emotional and certainly an attack on transgender students’ dignity.”

Bill Roberts, Statesman education reporter, contributed