Obama to Public Schools: Allow Transgender Students Access to Bathrooms

Schools that don't comply won't receive federal funds.

ByABC News
May 13, 2016, 8:19 AM

— -- The Obama administration today will call on public school districts nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, sources told ABC News.

As a condition of receiving federal funds, "a school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity,” reads a letter outlining guidance for schools, obtained by ABC.

While schools are permitted to offer single-use restrooms to students seeking "additional privacy," they should not require transgender students to use single-use facilities if their classmates are not required to do the same, the edict adds.

Citing Title IX, the letter says the school should not require a medical diagnosis, nor should they demand documentation reflecting the student's gender identity before taking steps to protect transgender students -- "even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections."

The letter -- signed by officials from the Departments of Justice and Education -- comes amid a fierce national debate over transgender rights, including dueling lawsuits by DOJ and the state of North Carolina over the so-called "bathroom law", which requires all government agencies and public schools to require multiple-occupancy public restrooms and locker-rooms be separated by "biological sex" rather than gender identity.

President Obama has slammed the law, saying, "I think it’s very important for us not to send signals that anybody is treated differently.”

Alongside the letter to school districts, officials will distribute a list of "emerging practices," advice for how to deal with a number of issues, from ensuring faculty uses the student's preferred pronoun to preventing staff from inadvertently disclosing a student's status as transgender.

The best practices document also gives guidance on how schools can "protect the privacy rights of all students," holding up a suggestion from Washington state that recommends offering "students who may feel uncomfortable sharing the facility with the transgender student(s)" the option to use a separate single-occupant restroom.

“This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement, calling the directive "groundbreaking."

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story characterized the letter sent to school by the Obama administration as an order; this has been changed to reflect that it is a letter of guidance.