Friday morning the Obama administration issued a directive – what some on the right see as a decree – telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. If schools refuse to allow this, they could be in violation of the Civil Rights act of 1964.
The notice comes in the middle of a heated national debate over bathroom laws in public spaces, but it has no official force of law behind it. It amounts to what the New York Times calls an “implicit threat.”
Attached to the letter that went out to schools across the U.S., was a 25-page booklet of what are called emerging practices, or tips on how to comply.
Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas’ school of law, says the directive is both unusual and not.
"We have a history now of these cases happening at the local level across the country,” Natarajan says. “Transgender students and the protection of transgender students is something that all school districts are grappling with."
Natarajan says what the U.S. Department of Justice is saying is that there’s an uneven application of Title IX – the law that says no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex. The department is merely trying to correct that.
So why now? Natarajan says there have already been court rulings and involvement in cases of students being denied bathroom access based on their gender identity.
"There's been a court that's spoken about it and it's a good time to extend those protections to everyone," she says.
Natarajan says if Texas schools do decide not to follow the recommendations – especially now that Gov. Greg Abbott has decided to fight them – students and parents will have the opportunity to make complaints under Title IX, or to the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
Prepared for web by Beth Cortez-Neavel.