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Utah is one of 11 states that sued the administration of President Barack Obama on Wednesday over a memo that threatened federal education funding if schools don't allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.
The suit, filed in federal court in Texas, alleges that the Obama administration unilaterally reinterpreted the Civil Rights Act to also encompass gender identity, without any regard for Congress' definition of the term "sex" in the landmark law.
"Adapting to the new circumstances put forth by the [Department of Education and Department of Justice] requires seismic changes in the operations of the nation's school districts," the lawsuit states. "Schools subject to Title IX must allow students to choose their restrooms, locker rooms and other intimate facilities that match their chosen 'gender identity' on any given day."
Attorney General Sean Reyes joined the lawsuit on Utah's behalf.
The lawsuit was sparked by the Justice Department's action against North Carolina over a law passed by that state's Legislature requiring students to use the restroom matching their biological gender, and a subsequent "dear colleague" letter from the DOJ and DOE interpreting federal law to require schools to allow students to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity.
In their lawsuit, the states argue that the memo is coercive because school districts that refuse to comply could lose a significant portion of their federal education funding, meaning they "have left plaintiffs no real choice but to acquiesce in such policy."
The suit goes on to argue that, "Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."
Plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the Obama administration violated the law in issuing the new requirements and enjoin them from taking effect.
Reyes said in a statement that the letter from the Obama administration seeks to apply a "one-size-fits-all" mandate that "disrespects individuals and ignores the law."
"This case is not really about bathrooms, but about executive branch overreach," Reyes said. "If the 'Dear Colleague' letter was intended to mandate a new interpretation of the law, the lawsuit challenges that adaptation as legally improper."
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, an LGBT advocacy group, said the lawsuit puts political points ahead of the well-being of children.
"Transgender students are often the victims of bullying and harassment. They shouldn't also be caught up in election-year grandstanding," Williams said. "Instead of lawsuits, we urge the governor to meet with transgender Utahns and their families. We need to work together to find solutions that protect all children."
Williams said that, given the relationships that have been built between state leaders and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he is disappointed Utah would join the Texas suit.
"The state must recognize that the Obama administration's guidelines will save countless transgender lives," he said. "These issues are best resolved by working together, not filing futile lawsuits."
Gov. Gary Herbert reiterated Wednesday that he considers the Obama letter a "one-size-fits-all mandate" instead of letting states and schools address the issue.
"It is unfortunate that the president has chosen to politicize our schools with such an extreme example of federal overreach," Herbert said. "I look forward to working with other states to resolve this conflict in a way that respects the privacy of all Utah children."
Tribune reporter Jennifer Dobner contributed to this article