The Obama administration issued an order Friday requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender, threatening to revoke federal funds from districts that refuse to comply.
The U.S. Department of Education said Title IX, which prevents public schools from discriminating against individuals because of sex, applies to transgender students as well.
The announcement arrived as legal battles entangle the federal government and North Carolina over the Tar Heel state’s controversial House Bill 2 that bars students from using a bathroom that does not correspond with their biological sex.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch has argued the law violates the Civil Rights Act.
"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Lynch said Friday. "This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies."
The announcement sparked backlash from conservatives who charge that the administration is overstepping its authority.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R, Ohio) said Friday that the issue should be dealt with at the local level given the potential threat that could arise from mixed-gender restrooms.
"There is no need for a blanket federal restroom policy that covers every school in America, especially one that comes with the threat of retaliation from the Obama administration for failure to comply," Jordan, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, said in a statement. "Unfortunately this type of blanket federal policy may tie the hands of those very parents, teachers, school administrators and local school boards who want to protect kids against dangerous situations that could arise from mixed-gender restrooms and locker rooms in schools."
Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas) also hit the administration for "intervening" in state and local issues.
"This ought to be a choice made by local officials at the local level held accountable by their own voters," he told Fox News Friday.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick meanwhile said that the directive "goes against the values of so many people" and said his state would refuse to bow to "blackmail" from President Obama.
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The administration sent a letter to school districts ordering they abide by the Justice Department and Education Department's new guidance. The letter does not have the force of law, but vows to rescind federal funds from those schools that do not adhere to the new guidance.
"As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others' discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex," the letter reads.