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Transgender bathrooms in schools: Why 11 states are suing Obama administration

Texas and 10 other states are suing the Obama administration over its directive to public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender.

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    Destin Cramer, left, and Noah Rice place a new sticker on the door at the ceremonial opening of a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale high school Tuesday, May 17, 2016, in Seattle. President Obama's directive ordering schools to accommodate transgender students has been controversial in some places but since 2012 Seattle has mandated that transgender students be able to use of the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. Nearly half of the district's 15 high schools already have gender neutral bathrooms and one high school has had a transgender bathroom for 20 years.
    (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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Texas and 10 other states are suing the Obama administration over its directive to U.S. public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The lawsuit announced Wednesday accuses the Obama administration of "running roughshod over commonsense policies" that protect children. It also includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

The challenge, which asks a judge to declare the directive unlawful, follows a federal directive to U.S. schools this month to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Some conservative states have vowed defiance, calling the guidance a threat to safety while being accused of discrimination by supporters of transgender rights. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said "there is no room in our schools for discrimination."

Earlier this month, Lynch, the first black woman to hold the job, elevated the profile of the Justice Department's potentially epic clash with North Carolina over its new bathroom law by placing it in the context of America's Jim Crow era — when signs above water fountains and restaurants fostered race discrimination — as well as more recent efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

"Instead of turning away from our neighbors, friends and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past," Lynch said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, directly addressing North Carolina residents. "Let us reflect on the obvious but neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight."

Texas' lieutenant governor has previously said the state is willing to forfeit $10 billion in federal education dollars rather than comply.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed the lawsuit at a book signing hours before the state's Republican attorney general was scheduled to formally announce the challenge at a Wednesday news conference.

"His lawsuit is challenging the way that the Obama administration is trampling the United States Constitution," Abbott told reporters.

The directive from the U.S. Justice and Education Departments represents an escalation in the fast-moving dispute over what is becoming the civil rights issue of the day. The guidance was issued after the Justice Department and North Carolina sued each other overs a state law that requires transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. The law applies to schools and many other places.

Supporters say such measures are needed to protect women and children from sexual predators, while the Justice Department and others argue the threat is practically nonexistent and the law discriminatory

Texas was a likely candidate to rush to the courthouse first. Abbott sued the Obama administration more than two dozen times when he was attorney general, a pace that his successor, Republican Ken Paxton, has kept up since taking office last year.

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