GOP states sue to block federal rules on LGBTQ+ preferred bathrooms: NPR

Tennessee is one of several Republican-led states suing the Biden administration over new protections for LGBTQ students against gender discrimination.


The culture war over school policies for LGBTQ students is reaching a fever pitch. First, many Republican-led states have banned transgender students from using their preferred bathroom. In response, the Biden administration is introducing a new federal regulation that could repeal these regulations. In response, Tennessee and several other GOP states filed a lawsuit to block the rule. Marianna Bacallao reports from member station WPLN.

MARIANNA BACALLAO, BYLINE: Lennon Freitas was 13 years old on a family trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida when he realized he wanted to use the boys’ bathroom after a long day of drinking Butterbeer.

LENNON FREITAS: My mom said, “What happened?” I thought, I don’t want to go to the women’s bathroom. She said, “You don’t have to pee?” I thought, no, I have to pee really hard. I just… don’t want to go. I want to go to the boys’ bathroom.

BACALLAO: His mother asked a family friend to let him use the men’s restroom at the staff offices.

FREITAS: It was such a euphoric and comforting experience. I was so happy and nervous, but comforted by the fact that I could go to the bathroom where I felt most comfortable.

BACALLAO: As a rising senior in Nashville, Freitas was unable to use the bathroom that matched his gender for most of his high school career. This is because of a 2021 Tennessee law that prohibits transgender children from using their preferred bathroom. New regulations could change that in Freitas’ upcoming senior year. Under the new guidelines, states with restroom bans, such as Tennessee, could lose federal education funding. However, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican, is leading the opposition to the new rules.


JONATHAN SKRMETTI: Today, the State of Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Cardona challenging the Department of Education’s new Title IX rules.

BACALLAO: Skrmetti says the new rule violates the First Amendment. He says Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, has changed a lot since it was first introduced.


SKRMETTI: The conditions when the state agreed to accept the money were very different from the conditions the government is trying to impose today. This is a violation of the constitution.

BACALLAO: Tennessee has its own law on the books that requires funding from schools that allow transgender girls to play on girls’ sports teams. Ahead of this year’s legislative session, some GOP leaders considered rejecting more than a billion dollars in federal education funding to circumvent federal laws like this one. Lawmakers quietly dropped the issue earlier this year after a report concluded the state could still be subject to federal requirements even if it rejects the money. Skrmetti says he’s confident because a judge temporarily blocked similar protections for LGBTQ students two years ago. Rutgers law professor Katie Eyer says much of that success was due to one thing.

KATIE EYER: They were filed before specific judges who tend to be sympathetic to these types of anti-LGBT arguments.

BACALLAO: Several lawsuits are pending across the country challenging federal protections for LGBTQ people. Skrmetti argues that the federal government is inappropriately redefining sex discrimination to include gender identity. Eyer says gender identity is already protected.

EYER: If you punish a transgender girl for coming to school wearing a skirt, you’re treating her differently than if you assigned her girl at birth. And that’s just the traditional definition of sex, right? This does not require redefining gender as gender identity.

BACALLAO: The new regulations are expected to come into force in August. Eyer predicts that a preliminary ruling will be issued sooner. It’s a difficult situation for transgender Tennessee students like Freitas. As a rising senior, he doesn’t yet have the years it would take for him to issue a final ruling, but he hopes the judge will allow the rule to take effect during his final year.

For NPR News, I’m Marianna Bacallao in Nashville.


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