Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, 09 Sep 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/Shutterstock)

20 States Sue US Government for Legal Right To Discriminate Against LGBTQ Individuals

President Biden issued guidelines earlier this year telling employers and schools that illegal discrimination against LGBTQ individuals had no place in the country and wouldn’t be tolerated. Still, not everyone appears to believe those recommendations apply to them.

The Advocate’s Trudy Ring has reported that in a new court filing, “20 state attorneys general have sued President Joe Biden’s administration over its guidelines for employers and schools on equal treatment of LGBTQ+ people.”

According to Ring, “the AGs, led by Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery, claim the federal government is interfering in matters that should be handled by the states, and they object particularly to guidance relating to transgender employees and students, such as access to restrooms and school sports teams comporting with their gender identity, use of their preferred pronouns, and enforcement of sex-specific dress codes.”

The lawsuit stems from the 2020 Supreme Court ruling of Bostock v. Clayton County, which found workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as sex discrimination and illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The White House expanded on that ruling earlier this year and said the ruling also applies to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in education.

In June 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education offered new guidance on implementing these guidelines state-by-state.

“The guidelines do not specifically impose policies but warn that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination will be investigated,” Ring reported. “The EEOC guidance includes advice on how to file a complaint of discrimination, and the Education Department guidance notes that the department will pursue remedies for any discrimination brought to its attention.”

But supporting ideals of fair treatment and non-discrimination appears to be too much for some states —and their legal systems in particular — to handle. 

In the new anti-equality lawsuit, filed on Aug. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, the state attorney generals supporting the suit wrote: “The guidance purports to resolve highly controversial and localized issues such as whether employers and schools may maintain sex-separated showers and locker rooms, whether schools must allow biological males to compete on female athletic teams, and whether individuals may be compelled to use another person’s preferred pronouns. But the agencies have no authority to resolve those sensitive questions, let alone to do so by executive fiat without providing any opportunity for public participation.”

The lawsuit also claims the guidelines are an example of federal “overreach” and have led to “nationwide confusion and upheaval” since its announcement.

According to Ring, the suit asked for a declaration within Title VII and Title IX that wouldn’t  “prohibit restrooms or other facilities segregated by ‘biological sex,’” “ban dress codes assigned on the same basis,” or “require the use of a trans person’s preferred pronouns.”

In addition to Tennessee, the other states involved in the suit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet commented officially on the lawsuit.

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

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