Wisconsin has joined a multi-state lawsuit against the Obama administration over a recent directive telling public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.
The federal Department of Education sent a letter to districts earlier this month saying they should allow students to use the facilities that corresponds with their gender identity instead of their biological sex, citing the federal Title IX law that shields students from sex discrimination.
Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the Department of Justice would join 10 other states in a lawsuit challenging that policy.
“President Obama’s attempts to rewrite the laws of our country without congressional consent and approval are not going to be tolerated by the state of Wisconsin,” Schimel said in a prepared statement.
The attorney general said he decided to join the lawsuit after discussing it with fellow Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Schimel has been vocal about his disagreement with the policy, including in remarks during a prayer at the state Republican convention earlier this month.
“Some in our nation’s leadership place a higher priority on so-called rights to use whatever bathroom one feels most comfortable with than they do basic religious freedoms,” he said.
In his statement issued Wednesday, Schimel said the federal policy challenged in the suit will have a significant impact on the University of Wisconsin and the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
State schools Superintendent Tony Evers responded by saying transgender bathroom policies are best discussed and determined at a local level.
State LGBT advocates are calling the attorney general’s participation in the multi-state suit a step backward.
“I think the attorney general’s actions send a clear message to Wisconsin’s transgender students that they’re not valued, that they don’t see them and understand actually what’s going on for them in school,” said Brian Juchems, senior director of education and policy at GSAFE, a statewide organization that advocates for transgender student rights.
Juchems estimates about 80 school districts already have policies that follow the federal guidelines. If the lawsuit succeeds in striking down the policy, he said many schools will likely continue carrying it out their own.
“In Wisconsin, we have a number of schools that are already doing right, and I don’t think that’s going to be stopped,” he said.
A bill, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, that would override those policies and require students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex died in the state Legislature earlier this year.
Kremer has said he plans to re-introduce the bill in the next legislative session.