When the Obama administration sent a letter to public schools offering guidance on how best to accommodate the needs of transgender students, conservatives lost it.
Republican hand-wringing over access to public facilities for transgender students has been percolating for a while — there are currently nine “bathroom bills” introduced in state legislatures. But the new guidance last week from the federal government prompted a whole new level of conservative freakout over transgender access to public restrooms.
Instead of lashing out at the Charlotte City Council or a superintendent in Texas for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, conservatives can now blame Obama for destroying the Constitution with a liberal plan to make schools and bathrooms less safe.
Several state officials have signaled significant pushback against the Obama administration’s letter, with governors and attorneys general in Texas, Alabama, and Utah hinting at legal action.
“Once again, the Obama Administration has overstepped its constitutional bounds to meddle in the affairs of state and local government. Today’s announcement seeking to unilaterally redefine and expand federal law must be challenged,” Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said in a Friday statement. “If President Obama thinks he can bully Texas schools into allowing men to have open access to girls in bathrooms, he better prepare for yet another legal fight.”
Republican officials in Texas have perhaps come out strongest against the letter from the Justice and Education departments. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) lamented that Obama is “trying to cram down as many parts of his liberal agenda on the United States of America as he possibly can.”
And Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called the debate over bathroom use “the biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public schools.” He said in a Friday press conference that Obama could not “blackmail” the state into enforcing new bathrooms policies and predicted a mass exodus from public schools.
“The president is going to find Democrat families are going to push back against this, Republican families, black families, brown families, white families. This goes against the values of so many people. It has nothing to do with anyone being against a transgender child or a gay child,” he said.
In that same vein, a post in the National Review declared that “the Obama administration just destroyed the traditional American public school.”
Numerous officials painted the letter from the Obama administration as yet another example of the President overreaching and suggested that the administration purposefully escalated the fight over bathrooms.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) charged that Obama is “intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said that with the “offensive, intrusive” letter, the “federal government is stirring the pot and meddling in the local control and administration of our schools.” He told schools to “disregard the latest attempt at social engineering by the federal government.”
And of course, conservatives relied on their favorite talking point when it comes to bathrooms, charging that Obama was paving the way for predatory adult men to share bathrooms with young girls.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that the President, with the new letter, was “demanding that every public school now allow grown men and boys into the little girls’ bathroom.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who has argued that the new law in his state protects norms regarding privacy in bathrooms, said that the new guidance “changes generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private settings of their everyday lives.”
Photo illustration by Christine Frapech; photos by White House and the Associated Press