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Bathroom controversy: Mississippi latest state to buck federal guidance

Mississippi's secretary of Education on Wednesday advised state education officials to disregard guidance from the Obama administration compelling schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms associated with their gender identity.

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    Destin Cramer (l.), and Noah Rice place a new sticker on the door at the ceremonial opening of a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale high school on Tuesday in Seattle.
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In opposition to new federal guidance on transgender students' rights in school, the head of the Mississippi Department of Education advised state educators not to adhere to the policy put forth by federal education and justice officials.

Mississippi Secretary of Education Carey Wright wrote in a statement Wednesday that her department should "follow the lead of state leadership" and hold off on adopting suggestions put forth by the Obama administration's "significant guidance" outlined in a letter released Friday.

Mississippi is not the first state to oppose the federal guidance, which includes instructions to grant transgender students access to locker rooms and bathrooms in accordance with the gender they identify with. Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas officials have also expressed resistance to allowing students into sex-segregated spaces if their gender and biological identities don't match up.

"This is the most outrageous example yet of the Obama administration forcing its liberal agenda on states that roundly reject it," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said, according to media reports.

The federal advice regarding the rights of transgender students' bathroom access also applies to sports teams, classrooms, clubs, and more under the Justice and Education departments' suggestions. While not legally binding due to a lack of legal precedent on the issue, schools and states that choose to ignore the recommendations could lose billions in federal funding.

They could also face lawsuits similar to the Department of Justice's legal action taken against North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2, which blocks transgender people from bathrooms that don't correspond to their biological sex. Despite that risk, lawmakers opposed to the measure say they will not adjust to meet the new standards.

"We will not be blackmailed by the president's 30 pieces of silver," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

In Mississippi, education officials will meet within two weeks to discuss the state's course with regards to the guidance. Ms. Wright originally stated that her department would comply, but dozens of state Republicans wrote her in protest of the decision.

"The policy of allowing boys or men into bathrooms and locker rooms with girls poses a threat to the safety and well-being of every school-aged girl in this state," they said.

In Maryland, where the guidance is being considered, legislators and students alike are divided on the issue.

"I think as long as nobody is getting hurt, a person should be able to do whatever the heck they want to do," Maryland state Sen. Wayne Norman (R) said, according to The Baltimore Sun. "When there's a possibility of someone harming a child, that's one of the most important things we have to defend in the legislature, is our children."

Those in favor of granting transgender students bathroom access say the pushback is ill-advised, and several other state officials have come out in support of the federal move.

"I applaud the Obama administration for establishing policies that will better provide all our children an opportunity to thrive," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement Friday.

A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 American adults found that only 33 percent approve of allowing transgender student to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, while 51 percent were in opposition to the concept. Twenty-four percent said the decision should be left to the federal government, 25 percent the state, and 41 percent said local jurisdiction should decide the issue.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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