This is shaping up to be a watershed month in the movement for transgender equality.
President Barack Obama defended his administration's stance on trans students in an interview with BuzzFeed News on Monday. The administration announced on Friday that it would be advising schools to allow students to use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. Schools will be sent a 25-page document outlining best practices for advising transgender youth.
Obama told BuzzFeed that taking action on the issue was necessary to prevent harassment and abuse in schools.
"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," the president said. "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."
Obama further argued that federal guidance was necessary to best advise schools on how to assist their students in the wake of legislation like House Bill 2, the controversial North Carolina law passed on April 23. That legislation blocks affirming restroom use for transgender people across the state, including students. Since that bill was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, schools in North Carolina have had no clue how to enforce it.
"There are school districts who have been wrestling with this problem and have, we think, done a good job in accommodating them in a way that is good for everybody, and so you can learn from these best practices," Obama said. "This is what we are advising."
However, the president explained to BuzzFeed that the ultimate decision on trans students' safety will be up to federal judges to decide. After the Department of Justice issued a statement explaining the administration's stance on HB 2 -- namely, that it violates Title VII protections outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- North Carolina announced it would be filing a lawsuit to challenge the agency's interpretation of existing law. The Justice Department subsequently announced that it has filed a civil rights lawsuit against McCrory and the state over the anti-trans provisions of HB 2.
"We said it is our view that you should treat these kids with dignity," Obama said. "Ultimately, depending on how these other lawsuits go, courts will affirm or reject how we see the issue."
The Obama administration taking action on the rights of trans students coincides with a groundbreaking announcement from Justin Trudeau. As the Canadian Prime Minister stated Monday, his country is pushing legislation to expand its Human Rights Act to include transgender people, as well as updating the Criminal Code to cover gender identity in hate speech protections. The bill will reportedly be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
"I sincerely believe that in Canada we can and we should do more," Trudeau said in a Montreal speech, as CBC News reports. "We must continue to demand true equality," he continued. "We must carry on the legacy of those who fought for justice by being bold and ambitious in our actions, and we must work diligently to close the gap between our principles and our reality."