In a joint letter signed by officials from the Departments of Education and Justice, public schools across the country will be urged to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities.
The letter, which the Obama administration plans to send out on Friday, is part of continued federal pushback against North Carolina's HB2 bill, which many have said discriminates against transgender individuals by blocking them from using the bathrooms of their choosing. On May 4, the Justice Department gave North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory a week to stop enforcing the bill, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, in part, prohibits discrimination based on a person's sex.
North Carolina responded by suing the federal government. The federal government sued back, and now the two are in a legal standoff that leaves millions of dollars of federal aid to North Carolina hanging in the balance.
"When a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity," the administration's letter reads.
Supporters of HB2 swiftly condemned the letter. Some even called the threat of losing federal funds "presidential blackmail," kicking off what is sure to be a long and arduous national debate on the issue.
According to the letter, though, Title IX laws make it clear that students may not be discriminated based on their sex, and both agencies dictate that for legal purposes, a student's sex can be determined by their gender identity.
"This guidance further clarifies what we've said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr said. "Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence."
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