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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today that the Trump administration's withdrawal of Obama-era guidelines on equal treatment of transgender students doesn't send a negative message to trans kids -- but far-right activists are certainly seeing the action that way.
Religious right groups are over the moon about the administration's action, which one of them, Liberty Counsel, described as a revocation of the previous president's "lawless directive." They're also, unsurprisingly, refusing to recognize transgender identity.
But Spicer, in today's press briefing, said Donald Trump's stance is that how schools treat trans students is simply a states' rights issue -- and the press secretary even objected to calling reversal of the Obama administration's guidelines a reversal.
The Departments of Education, headed by Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Justice, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, issued an order Wednesday revoking the guidance issued by their departments last year that advised schools to affirm trans students' identity by using their preferred names and pronouns, and allowing them access to the restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The guidance was not legally binding, but it gave schools a blueprint to follow to avoid violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. President Obama's administration interpreted Title IX as covering discrimination based on gender identity. A federal judge put the guidelines on hold last August because several states had sued to challenge them.
NBC's Kristen Welker asked Spicer today, "Eighty-two percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school. So isn't the president leaving some of these children open ... to being bullied at school?"
Spicer said most schools have antibullying policies in place and that Trump believes policies governing treatment of transgender students should be a state-level matter. Welker then asked, "So respecting kids is a states' rights issue?"
Spicer responded, "You're trying to make an issue out of something that doesn't exist. It was the court who stopped this in August of last year. So where were the questions last year in August about this? ... We're not reversing [the Obama administration's guidance]. That is a misinterpretation of the scenario. The court stopped it. It enjoined it in August of last year because it wasn't properly drafted, and it didn't follow the procedures, and there was no legal basis for it in a law that was instituted in 1972."
The press secretary also defended Trump, noting that he said Caitlyn Jenner, one of the nation's most famous transgender people, could use the restroom of her choice at Trump Tower in New York City. "When this circumstance came up at one of the president's own properties, he was very clear about his position on this," Spicer said. "So for you to turn around and say what message is the president saying, where was the message when he sent it last year? I think the message shows that he's a guy with a heart that understands the trouble that many people go through. But he also believes that the proper legal recourse for this is with the states."
Reaction from the far right, however, doesn't show much understanding of transgender people. They contended that allowing trans students access to facilities consistent with their gender identity threatened the privacy and safety of women and girls. A Concerned Women for America press release referred to trans girls as "boys who feel they are girls," and a Family Research Council piece decried "letting teenage boys shower with the girls."
And Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver said in his press release, "We applaud the Trump administration for taking a stand against the Obama administration attempts to impose its unlawful and harmful LGBT agenda on public schools. The Obama directive is a lawless act and defies common sense. Allowing boys to use private facilities for girls violates the right to privacy and places girls at risk of sexual abuse."
In truth, there have been exactly zero incidents of a transgender person attacking someone in a restroom or other single-sex facility that has inclusive policies. Not being allowed access to the appropriate facilities actually puts trans people at risk. And schools make arrangements to protect students' privacy.
And despite Spicer's assertion that Trump understands trans people's troubles, members of the religious right clearly believe the president is on their side. "President Trump did more than keep his campaign promise of getting the federal government out of the business of dictating bathroom and shower policies," reads the "Washington Update" from Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "He respected states' rights -- but most importantly, he respected parents' rights. For that, we thank him."
By the way, far-right organizations referred to Trump revoking or rescinding the Obama guidelines. What might Sean Spicer say to that?