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US: Let Transgender Students Choose Restroom


A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral bathroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.

A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral bathroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.

The United States government says transgender students have a right to use restrooms that agree with their chosen sexual identity.

The Obama administration sent a letter containing its guidance to all U.S. public school districts last week. The letter was signed by Justice and Education department leaders.

School district officials also received a statement from Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It said that “there is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex.”

Lynch said the guidance “gives (school) administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”

The letter said that public schools are required to treat transgender students in a way that agrees with their gender identity. It said this is a requirement even when a different sex is listed on a student’s education records or identity documents.

The new directive might not be legally enforceable. But it is possible that opponents of the Obama administration’s position could face legal action or lose federal aid.

The letter said that schools may not require transgender students to have a medical exam before treating them according to their chosen gender identity. It said schools also may not require such individuals to get a medical treatment or produce a birth certificate or other documentation.

The letter was sent soon after the Obama administration brought legal action against the state of North Carolina. In March, the state’s legislature approved a bill that became law. It requires transgender people to use bathrooms that match their sex at birth instead of the gender with which they now identify.

North Carolina is the first state that bars people from using large bathrooms in public buildings that do not match the gender on their birth certificate.

Attorney General Lynch called the North Carolina law “state-sponsored discrimination.” She said it reminded her of a time when African-Americans were barred from public buildings and when states could decide who is permitted to marry.

The federal government’s case names the state government, Governor Pat McCrory, the Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina.

Lynch said “this is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.” She said the North Carolina law has caused, in her words, “emotional harm, mental anguish, distress, humiliation and indignity” to transgender people.

North Carolina has brought a case against the federal government, seeking to keep the law in effect.

McCrory and other supporters of the law say it is necessary to protect privacy in public bathrooms and guard against men using women’s restrooms to spy on women.

But Lynch said the state invented a problem that does not exist so it can discriminate against and threaten people.

In addition to possibly losing federal money, North Carolina could also lose millions of dollars in taxes from companies that have or could cancel plans to open offices in the state.

In April, an opinion survey found that Americans are divided about which public bathrooms should be used by transgender people. It showed 44 percent of those asked said people should use bathrooms that match their biological gender. The study also found 39 percent said they should be used according to the gender with which a person identifies.

I’m Anne Ball.

VOANews.com reported this story. VOA’s Ken Bedemeier contributed to the report. Additional material for the report came from the Reuters news agency. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

transgender – adj. of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female

school district – n. an area or region containing the schools that a school board is in charge of

peer – n. a person who belongs to the same age group or social group as someone else

gender – adj. the state of being male or female

match – v. to be in agreement with (something)

state-sponsored – adj. supported by a government

remind – v. to make (someone) think about something again; to cause (someone) to remember something

accord – v. to give (something, such as special treatment or status) to someone or something

distress – n. unhappiness or pain; suffering that affects the mind or body

humiliation – n. to make (someone) feel very ashamed or foolish

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