Idaho officials protest Obama bathroom directive

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

Idaho has joined the fray on the contentious national issue of transgender bathroom usage.

Since President Barack Obama issued a May directive allowing public school students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity, the country’s conservative politicians have been sharply critical of the action. Eleven states joined in a lawsuit fighting the order, and last week, and Idaho governor spokesman Mark Warbis announced the governor’s office is working on an amicus brief supporting their case.

Illustration by Allison Wier.

Illustration by Allison Wier.

“This vast overreach by the Obama administration once again shows the federal government’s disregard for states’ rights and local control of our schools,” Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also condemned the Obama administration order, saying these decisions were best left in the hands of local districts.

“Idaho schools and communities know their students best, and know that each individual students’ needs are unique,” Ybarra said. “Our schools and communities will continue to meet those needs in a manner which is respectful and supportive to all, regardless of their situation. As I have stated before, this is another example of local control.”

The amicus brief will support the 11 states’ case to have the Obama directive declared illegal and overturned. So far, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia are participating in the lawsuit.

“We will explore every available option to ensure that the rights of all Idaho students are protected and that the citizens of Idaho maintain authority over our public education system,” Otter said. “I do not believe this Washington, D.C., power play will withstand the legal challenges that are sure to come.”

Issued May 13, the Obama directive instructed public schools to allow students access to the bathroom fitting his or her gender identity. It also encouraged teachers and administrators to respect a student’s gender identity regardless of the gender printed on his or her legal documentation. The directive is similar to positions adopted by the Idaho School Boards Association last year.

Idaho has long been resistant to measures sought by LGBT rights advocates. In recent years, this is most evident in the Add The Words campaign’s failure to gain traction in the Idaho Legislature. An effort to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s human rights protections, Add The Words campaign organizers have worked for more than a decade to introduce legislation.

In 2015, Add The Words supporters packed the room for a three-day committee hearing, after which legislators killed the motion in a party-line vote. This year, the legislative session began with hopeful signs that a compromise balancing the revisions with considerations protecting religious freedom might be more successful. However, momentum died on the compromise before any action could be taken.

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