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Conservative states challenge federal rule to stop laws like Alabama’s on transgender students

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At least five Republican state attorneys general are challenging a new federal regulation that mandates protections for transgender students at schools. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana, the states argue that the recently announced rule harms girls. The federal rule opposes sweeping policies to allow transgender people from using the school bathrooms that align with their gender. At least eleven states, including Alabama, have such laws in their books already.

The states oppose provisions in the federal law that bar blanket prohibitions on transgender students using the school bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender. They also object to provisions that call for school staff to use a student's pronouns. Lawyers for Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana are asking to delay implementation of the rule, which is to take effect August 1st. Texas has filed a similar lawsuit.

"This is federal government overreach, but it's of a degree and dimension like no other," Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said in a news conference.

One lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Monroe, Louisiana on Monday, the same day the Education Department regulations on how to enforce Title IX were officially finalized. The top state government lawyers for Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana want the court to delay the date they take effect, which is scheduled for Aug. 1. Texas filed a similar lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Amarillo on Monday.

"The Final Rule drives a dagger through the heart of Title IX's mandate," the states contend in their legal filing. "The central feature of the Final Rule is the Department's extraordinary move to transform Title IX's prohibition of discrimination based on 'sex' to include discrimination based on 'gender identity,'" which the lawyers call "a wildly ambiguous term."

The regulation, left unchallenged, could invalidate several state laws adopted in recent years — and it could preempt some under consideration by state lawmakers, including in Louisiana. The regulation applies to all schools that receive federal funding.

The states say the rule prohibits single-sex bathrooms and locker rooms, "compels school officials both to use pronouns associated with a student's claimed 'gender identity' and to force students to do so as well," and that it "cannot help but sound the death knell for female sports."

The rule opposes sweeping policies to allow transgender people from using the school bathrooms that align with their gender. At least 11 states, including Alabama, have such laws in their books already.

The lawsuit says that even though the regulation does not address sports participation specifically, it would apply there, too. In the last few years, at least 25 states have adopted laws keeping transgender girls out of girls sports competitions — all in the name of preserving girls sports.

President Joe Biden's administration previously planned to announce a policy forbidding schools from enacting outright bans on transgender girls in girls sports, but it has backed off that plan and did not include it as part of the regulation.

Still, advocates on both sides of the issue say that the new rules seems to bar at least complete bans of those sports laws.

The regulation is also murky when it comes to laws intended to protect students and/or teachers from discipline if they misgender transgender or binary students by using the wrong pronouns for them; at least four states have such laws. The regulation says that using the wrong pronoun "can constitute discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX in certain circumstances." But it also spells out that a "stray remark" doesn't constitute harassment.

A handful of states — including Texas on Monday — have told local school districts not to change their policies against sex discrimination in light of the new regulation.

It's no surprise that the conservative states would challenge the law.

Attorneys general often sue over federal administrative actions, especially those from presidents of the opposite party. And the battle over the rights of transgender kids has become a huge political issue over the last few years and remains one in this presidential election year.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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