The Battle Over Bathrooms

President Barack Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Katherine Chunchi

On May 13 the Obama administration directed public schools across the nation to give transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identities.

The contentious directive comes from the administration’s court fight with North Carolina, which about two months ago, passed a bill barring transgender people from bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms.

The Department of Education and Justice also joined the administration’s directive and sent a letter to every public school detailing the need to ensure transgender students have the opportunity to an education in a place free from discrimination and violence. “I think it’s very important for us not to send signals that anybody is treated differently,” President Obama said in a news conference. He also said that regardless of someone’s sexual orientation, it is important to respect and value everyone’s equal rights and avoid making people feel uncomfortable or discriminated against.

Anthony Lucero, 20, a junior majoring in computer science at the New York City College of Technology supports the administration and said that transgender people deserve access to all bathrooms. “I don’t care if there’s a boy who identifies or is dressed as a girl using my school bathroom. As long as he doesn’t try to do some funny business then I’m okay with that. I think it’s unfair that [North Carolina] doesn’t allow ‘trans’ people to use the bathroom of their choice,” he said.

As for the education department officials, they hope that the announcement will drive results. The declaration is not mandatory by law, but it is a threat to those public schools that choose not to accept or comply with the Obama administration. Failure to follow the policy could result in lawsuits or loss of federal aid.

Some Republicans have criticized the federal government for establishing its own standards and values for the entire
country. “Obama says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not accept the policy,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas, 66, at a news conference. “Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of Silver. We will not yield to blackmail from the president of the United States.”

Governor Patrick also said that schools in Texas receive about $10 billion dollars over their two-year budget of federal funds. The majority of that is for free breakfast and free lunch through the food program. Obama’s plan of action will be taking money from the poorest of the poor, which will end the free breakfast and free lunch program, according to Patrick.

Others have defended North Carolina’s law by claiming it would be inappropriate to grant transgender women permission to use the same bathrooms as young girls. Jerry Montero, 26, a member of the United States Marine Corps, said he found it a bit hysterical. “I get why parents may feel some discomfort that their children share the bathroom with trannys, but at the end of the day, they’re just like us,” he said. “They’re human beings. They’re not contagious. I don’t know why people are so conformed to living a certain way that almost anything out of the conventional range upsets them.”

The Obama administration is working to change the civil rights scope for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, according to the New York Times. Catherine E. Lahmon, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights and Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division along with the education department signed the letter that will soon be distributed to public schools.

The letter will establish a combination of policies. Among those policies are a school’s obligation to create a nondiscrimination zone and provide transgender students access to suitable facilities, educational programs, activities, and more.

After supporting same-sex marriage, the Obama administration and the Justice Department said their policy has been in the works for quite some time and they are happy that their plan of action is finally coming through, despite the legal challenges.

Some New Yorkers were supportive but thought the directive to be a little heavy-handed. “Personally, I think it is great that kids will be free to use the bathrooms, not only will they be treated equally, but it will reflect who they are,” said Maritza Figueroa, 30, home health provider. “But I also think that Obama shouldn’t be threatening schools that decide not to abide by his policy because parents will have a lot to say about it like ‘What if a transgender [person] tries to pass the limit and intimidate or touch my child?’ and that’s something to think about.”

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