In Outrageous Ruling, Judge Grants Request by States Seeking to Roll Back Federal Transgender ProtectionsBy Adam Polaski • August 22, 2016 • 9:12 am
On Sunday night in Fort Worth, Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Reed Charles O’Connor granted a preliminary injunction in Texas v. United States, a case seeking to roll back protections for transgender Americans. The injunction was sought by Texas and several other states challenging the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – which prohibits sex discrimination – to be inclusive of gender identity discrimination. The judge today, in an egregious move, ruled that his injunction applies nationwide, far beyond the scope of this case. Read the ruling here. More broadly, the Texas v. United States case also attacks Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but the judge did not yet rule on those claims.
The lawsuit, at its basest level, is a shameful attack on transgender people with one purpose: To enshrine transgender people as second-class citizens under the law and inflict discrimination into their everyday lives. The preliminary injunction granted today specifically attacks students. The lawsuit was filed in May 2016, just a few weeks after the Obama administration issued guidance instructing public schools to respect students’ gender identity for the purpose of using public restrooms and facilities – a stance long held by multiple federal agencies including the Departments of Justice and Education.
The decision today is a single lower court ruling by one judge in a very conservative district chosen intentionally by litigators who sought to ensure a victory.
Judge O’Connor ruled largely relying on procedural questions and asserting that the guidelines were improperly issued. But however he arrived at his answer, the decision is a means to the same end: Transgender students will be hurt by this ruling, left to the whim of their school administrators. However, the decision changes nothing about the substantive legal rights of transgender students and employees in America.
Across the country, schools and employers are already treating transgender students and workers equally by implementing inclusive policies, and they will continue to do so. School districts across the country have treated transgender students equally for years, and thousands of employers – including the federal government – already ensure equal practices and rules that the guidance proposes, without any problems. The judge did not rule that transgender students cannot use restrooms and facilities that match who they are. Transgender students and workers continue to have the same rights they had before the guidance by the Obama administration was issued. Moreover, transgender students and workers may and should continue to still file complaints with federal agencies, employers, and school districts that discriminate against transgender people.
Like other cases, it will be appealed and continue to make its way throughout the court process.
Kasey Suffredini, Freedom for All Americans Chief Program Officer, issued the following statement:
“Today’s ruling is a step back for transgender protections by a conservative judge who refused to hear the voices of a single transgender student or worker during court proceedings. It is shameful that opponents of equality have forced this lawsuit forward in an attempt to make transgender Americans pawns in a political game; but this ruling will not stand the test of time. All transgender Americans – particularly transgender youth – deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No singular court ruling negates the right of all Americans to receive equal treatment under the law – that’s one of our nation’s founding values.
Suffredini continued: “Transgender people play critical roles in communities all across this nation – we are people’s children, parents, brothers and sisters, doctors, lawyers, small business owners and faith leaders. There are many pieces of litigation in our courts right now, and they are all linked by one common factor: they demonstrate that there are forces seeking to harm and discriminate against transgender Americans. Our work will continue until every single transgender American can go to school, get a job, secure a place to live and raise a family without fear of discrimination.”
Freedom for All Americans is confident that justice will be served and transgender Americans will be assured their constitutional rights by the courts, echoing a majority of Americans who support nondiscrimination protections for transgender people and who are seeking to do the right thing.
Several other legal challenges are pending across the country relating to LGBT Americans. Later this fall, a trial will get underway in dueling lawsuits between the state of North Carolina and the U.S. Department of Justice over the legality of the state’s anti-LGBT HB 2 law. A federal judge is expected to issue a ruling any day now over an injunction related to the anti-transgender provisions of that law as part of another lawsuit, brought forward by advocates including Equality North Carolina, the ACLU and Lambda Legal. And the U.S. Supreme Court will decide this fall whether to review the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia transgender teenager who is locked in a legal battle with his local school board over access to the restroom that aligns with his gender identity.
The many moving pieces in the courts and multiple lawsuits underscore a critical need to ensure that transgender protections are permanently codified into state and federal law. Protection from discrimination is too foundational and important a value to leave to the discretion of individual judges or jurisdictions. States must continue to work to update their own nondiscrimination laws to include transgender people and make those protections permanent through statute.