- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - When nature calls, transgender student Irene Sizemore would prefer using the girls’ bathroom. But her school says she can’t. She hopes a new federal directive changes that.

Sizemore, a 16-year-old sophomore at a public school in Louisville, called it “a big day” to have the president recognize the rights of transgender students. President Barack Obama’s administration said that public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

“I appreciate what they’re doing,” Sizemore said Friday. “It will definitely put some pressure on the schools to help transgender students like myself.”

The directive drew protests from some top Kentucky Republicans.

Gov. Matt Bevin called it an “absurd federal overreach.” Bevin said the federal government lacks constitutional authority to interfere in local schools’ bathroom policies.

He accused Obama of “intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction.”

Bevin said his office was looking into options to ensure the issue is decided locally.

The federal guidance does not impose any new legal requirements. But officials said it’s meant to clarify expectations of school districts that receive funding from the federal government.

In Louisville, Sizemore said she avoids going to the restroom or uses the boys’ bathroom at school. Sizemore was born male but considers herself female.

“I’m not a boy and I’m using the boys’ restroom, so that in itself is weird,” she said. “By forcing me to use the men’s room, they are telling me … that they don’t accept me.”

Last year, Kentucky lawmakers considered a bill to ban transgender students from choosing which bathroom to use at public schools.

The bill would not have forced transgender students to use the bathroom of their biological gender. But it would have required them to use a faculty bathroom or separate bathroom. It passed the Senate but died in the House. The issue did not surface this year.

In Louisville, Atherton High School’s principal, Thomas Aberli, developed a transgender-friendly policy in 2014 after a student transitioning from male to female sought some accommodations, including what facilities to use.

He said some parents were initially opposed, but since the first student raised the issue and the policy was created, about a half-dozen more students have come forward as transgender.

“It really gets at, what’s the right way to treat another person, and how are we communicating to our children and to the community what it means to treat an individual according to who they are,” he said.

Many bills popping up in state legislatures to ban transgender bathroom use were crafted by the Liberty Counsel, a law firm founded by Mat Staver. It’s the same law firm that represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last year effectively legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

Staver said he’s working to craft a federal lawsuit to challenge the new directive.


Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville and Adam Beam in Frankfort contributed to this report.

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