Transgender Equality Embraced as U.S. Judge Blocks Obama's Bathroom Policy

A federal judge blocked Obama administration guidance that transgender public school students must be allowed to use bathrooms of their choice, granting a nationwide injunction sought by a group of 13 states led by Texas.

The ruling comes not long after Target (No. 22 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) announced its $20 million plan to add a private bathroom to each of its stores, and a week after the General Services Administration (GSA) released guidelines for federal buildings to allow transgender employees and visitors to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

Reed O’Connor, a judge for the Northern District of Texas, said in a decision late on Sunday that the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures for notice and comment in issuing the guidelines. He said the guidelines contradict with existing legislative and regulatory texts.

“Although Defendants have characterized the Guidelines as interpretive, post-guidance events and their actual legal effect prove that they are ‘compulsory in nature,'” he wrote.

The guidance issued by the Justice Department and Education Department said public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other intimate facilities that correspond with their gender identity, as opposed to their birth gender, or face the loss of federal funds.

Under the injunction, the Obama administration is prohibited from enforcing the guidelines on “against plaintiffs and their respective schools, school boards, and other public, educationally based institutions,” O’Connor wrote.

Meanwhile, Target last week revealed its $20 million plan regarding private bathroom, which every Target store will have by March 2017. The bathrooms are open for any customer to use and can be locked for privacy. Cathy Smith, Target’s finance chief, said that they made the decision following complaints about the store’s announcement that transgender customers can use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

“At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion,” spokeswoman Katie Boylan said. “We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores.”

Smith also said that the company does not attribute a drop in sales to the customer complaints.

Target faced backlash previously after publicly announcing in April its stance on the transgender bathroom debate.

“Inclusivity is a core belief at Target. It’s something we celebrate,” the company stated. “We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally.”

Also last week, GSA released a new bulletin providing guidance for federal offices under its purview that allows transgender employees and visitors to its federal buildings to access the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

GSA spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn said the bulletin applies to more than 9,000 buildings nationwide, including courthouses and Social Services buildings.

“This includes all kinds of Americans,” Nash-Hahn said. “We wanted to make clear that a person can use facilities that match their gender identity, and we think that’s a good thing.”

The bulletin specifies:

“The EEOC further ruled in Lusardi v. Dep’t of the Army that denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity is sex discrimination, that an employer cannot condition this right on the employee undergoing or providing proof of surgery or any other medical procedure, and an employer cannot avoid the requirement to provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting a transgender employee to a single-user restroom instead (though the employer can make a single-user restroom available to all employees who might choose to use it).”

“This type of requirement can change the default for what life is like for those federal employees and people who enter federal buildings,” Chai Feldblum, a member of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), said to BuzzFeed News.

Reuters material contributed to this report.

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