23 Feb 2017

Trump to reverse school transgender bathroom rules

10:30 am on 23 February 2017

US President Donald Trump will reverse guidance predecessor Barack Obama gave to schools that transgender students should use toilets of their gender identity, the White House says.

Critics had called Mr Obama's guidance government overreach which threatened other students' privacy and safety.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Mr Trump firmly believed "this is a states' rights issue".

"I would expect further guidance to come out on that today," he told a news conference.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump originally said transgender students should be able to use whichever bathroom they felt was appropriate, but changed his mind after Republican backlash. Photo: AFP

Though the Obama-era order will be rescinded, anti-bullying safeguards are expected to remain in place, the AP news agency reported, citing a government official.

Last May, Mr Obama's justice and education departments instructed public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom corresponded to their gender identity.

Though not legally binding, Mr Obama's order warned schools they could lose funding if they did not follow the new guidance.

The directive sparked backlash across the country, prompting legal challenges from 13 states and a Texas federal judge's preliminary injunction blocking the department's position in August.

The Obama administration's guidance was based on its interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

Mr Obama argued that protection extended to gender identity.

But Mr Spicer said the previous administration's guidelines were confusing and too difficult to implement.

Woman and man toilet sign

Barack Obama had advised schools that transgender students should use the bathroom of the gender they identified with. Photo: Public Domain

During his presidential campaign, Mr Trump said transgender students should be allowed to use whichever bathroom "they feel is appropriate".

But he reversed his stance after facing Republican criticism.

Conservative activists praised Mr Trump's impending order, saying it protected student rights to privacy.

"Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues," said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy.

"It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity."

Meanwhile, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the move a major setback for trans rights.

"By rescinding these protections, the Trump administration is compromising the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable children," she said.

"Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it's OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans."