A federal judge in Fort Worth has blocked Obama administration guidelines directing the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.
In a 38-page order released Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor said the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance.
“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy while using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor wrote in the order. He added: “The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because Defendant’s actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues every year throughout each child’s educational career.”
“The resolution of this difficult policy decision is not, however, the subject of this order,” he said.
You can see a copy of the court order here. We had expected a ruling before school started, though I honestly didn’t think that would mean Sunday. The question now is what does this mean, since there wasn’t a law in place, just a recommendation. ThinkProgress offers one explanation:
The scope of O’Connor’s order is vast. It dictates that the federal government can not intervene on behalf of trans students in any school nationwide. If the departments were already investigating claims of anti-trans discrimination, they must suspend those investigations immediately. In other words, so long as this injunction is in place, it’s as if the guidance protecting trans students doesn’t exist at all. It doesn’t, however, prevent schools from continuing to follow the guidance.
The ACLU, which was one of the filers of a joint amicus brief in the case, had the following to say:
“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination. This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly. The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.
“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.”
Although the court failed to consider the interests of the very students the federal laws were intended to protect, the five civil rights organizations who advocated on their behalf avowed, “We will continue to file lawsuits representing transgender students and litigate them to the fullest extent of the law—regardless of what happens with this particular federal guidance.”
The one thing that is clear is that this will be appealed. One should never get one’s hopes up where the Fifth Circuit is concerned, but this is what we’ve got for now. The DMN, the Austin Chronicle, the Current, and the Press have more.