Before the ink was dry on a directive by the Obama administration sent Friday instructing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, political and religious leaders across the country were calling on everything from defying the directive to violently confronting LGBT supporters.
Republican governors and attorneys general in a dozen states swiftly condemned the administration, accusing it of “overreaching,” “social engineering” and using “bullying and blackmail tactics,” with many threatening to take legal action.
The letter to all U.S. public schools by the Justice Department and the Department of Education outlines the administration’s interpretation of discrimination as it relates to transgender rights. It is a directive, not law, but schools could face lawsuits or lose federal aid if they are not accommodating to transgender individuals.
Speaking at the Texas Republican Convention on Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said accommodating transgender school children “will be the beginning of the end of the public school system as we know it,” adding that Texas did not fear losing federal education funds. “He [Obama] says he is going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy. Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not be blackmailed by the president of the United States.”
Patrick also mocked the transgender community, telling audience members at the convention, “Now, just so you’re not confused, when you go to the restroom, the ‘M’ doesn’t stand for ‘make up your mind,’ and the ‘W’ does not stand for ‘whatever.’”
Meanwhile, a Texas school superintendent, Rodney Cavness, reflected the sentiment shared by many Republican leaders who voiced their responses: “[Obama] ain’t my President and he can’t tell me what to do. That letter is going straight to the paper shredder.”
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called the directive an “absurd federal overreach” and said Obama is “intentionally dividing America.”
Members of the Utah Board of Education said, “While it’s important to look after the rights of the minority, it’s also important to look after the rights of the majority.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt responded to the DOJ/DOE letter with one of his own, which read in part, “Students and their families cannot even seek reassurance that a transgender student’s self-definition is not premised on whim or caprice because you have disavowed the school’s ability to seek any form of documentation regarding the transgender child’s self-definition.”
According to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, “This action creates needless concern and confusion for students, parents and educators. Threatening to withhold federal Title IX funding for failure to comply with this offensive attempt at social engineering only harms our children.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant posted on Facebook, “Because these decisions are better left to the states, and not made at the point of a federal bayonet, Mississippi’s public schools should not participate in the president’s social experiment.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “The recent letter from the federal government providing guidance to Arkansas schools on gender identification is offensive, intrusive and totally lacking in common sense. There is no recognizable problem in Arkansas on this issue. As Governor, I recommend that local school districts disregard the latest attempt at social engineering by the federal government and continue to use common sense to ensure a safe and healthy environment in Arkansas schools.”
On the religious front, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Monday calling the administration’s directive “deeply disturbing.”
“The guidance fails to address a number of important concerns and contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created,’” said the statement signed by Bishop Richard Malone and Archbishop George Lucas.
Even further on the religious right, evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham and president and CEO of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told his followers that God would protect them if they engaged in violent confrontation over their opposition to LGBT rights and in a Facebook post Sunday night asked his followers whether they were willing to “take a bullet” for their beliefs.
Obama, for his part, said the bottom line is that all people, especially children, must be treated fairly. “We’re talking about kids, and anybody who’s been in school, been in high school, who’s been a parent, I think should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially they are vulnerable,” he said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I think that it is part of our obligation as a society to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and our kids are all loved, and that they’re protected and that their dignity is affirmed.”