Florida

Transgender bathroom debate comes to Florida

State Rep. Janet Adkins: "It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools.”
State Rep. Janet Adkins: "It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools.”

A conservative lawmaker in Florida who is running for Nassau County schools superintendent wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to issue an official opinion on what she believes to be the “constitutional encroach” of the Obama administration’s new guidance to public schools over transgender students’ bathroom access.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the president’s new policy a “clear violation” of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools,” Adkins said in a statement Wednesday.

Read Rep. Adkins’ letter to Bondi

But Bondi’s office isn’t wading into the issue. Deputy Attorney General Kent J. Perez wrote in a response to Adkins on Wednesday afternoon: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.”

On Friday, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice sent letters of guidance to all public schools nationwide informing them that they must treat students in ways that match their gender identities — or risk losing federal money under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on sex.

That means, the Obama administration said, transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity and also be allowed to participate in school athletics in that manner.

The guidance letter came just days after the Obama administration and North Carolina sued each other after the state passed a law banning transgender people from using public bathrooms of their choice.

Republican leaders in Florida have been reluctant to comment so far on the new guidelines. Both Bondi and Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week said they were “reviewing” it.

Scott told reporters in Clearwater on Monday: “This is an important issue. We’re going to take our time to do a thorough review.”

But Adkins, the outgoing chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee, wants a swifter response: For the state to challenge the Obama administration’s directive.

She said policies about bathroom access should be decided by states and local school boards, not the feds.

Read the Obama administration’s letter to schools

“The use of threats and intimidation to achieve policy change is unacceptable and must be challenged at every level of state and local government,” Adkins said.

She added, “To craft a special class of rights for certain individuals and to allow people to make decisions based on how they identify their gender creates a chaotic environment for the school administrators. This is illogical and harms the greater need for an orderly learning environment that promotes the safety and well-being of all students.”

In her letter to Bondi, dated Sunday, Adkins posed seven questions — including whether the Obama administration’s policy effectively creates new federal regulations and whether it violates the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

She noted that “we do not seek to discriminate against anyone in Florida” and she expressed several concerns about imposing a federal policy for transgender students — such as the religious freedom and potential discrimination of other students whose beliefs “conflict” with the Obama administration’s mandate.

Adkins wrote to Bondi that schools shouldn’t be “forced to adopt rules and policy that create blanket rights for students who simply express a gender identification absent any surgical or other medical procedures that would be associated with such transgender expression.”

She called it “illogical that a parent or legal guardian would have the power to change the gender identity of a minor student.”

Read Bondi’s office’s response to Adkins

Adkins further suggested that “the issues surrounding transgender conduct could reasonably allow students to alter their gender identification multiple times through the course of the year or to simply announce that they identify with both genders and hence should be given access to both male and female locker rooms and restrooms.”

But Adkins appears to misunderstand what it means to be transgender, said Hannah Willard, policy and outreach coordinator for Equality Florida.

“I understand there’s a lot of confusion about gender identity and gender expression,” Willard said. “But the tone and implication in this statement and in this letter to Attorney General Bondi reveals a lot of misinformation about what it means to be transgender. ... It paints transgender students as somehow damaged or broken. That’s an incredibly dangerous connotation and implication to make.

“That initial confusion about what it means to be transgender is understandable but when we make policies out of a place of ignorance, that causes real harm. Transgender students want the same things their classmates want: To get an education and to be able to feel safe and protected in schools.”

Tampa Bay Times reporter Alli Knothe contributed to this report.

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