Philip Wegmann / August 19, 2016
Biological sex will no longer determine restroom accessibility in thousands of federally operated facilities across the country.
A new regulation from the Obama administration allows individuals to use whatever bathroom they decide is consistent with their gender identity when visiting or working at properties managed by the General Services Administration, the government agency responsible for managing federal workspaces.
The new bathroom mandate was added to the Federal Register Thursday, a GSA spokesman told The Daily Signal, “clarifying that the nondiscrimination requirement includes gender identity as a prohibited basis of discrimination.”
The regulation promises to bring sweeping change. It applies to the approximately 9,200 properties managed by the GSA nationwide, an expansive federal list that includes post offices, courthouses, research laboratories, and administrative offices that house agencies like the Social Security Administration.
The regulation affects “all kinds of Americans,” GSA spokesman Ashley Nash-Hahn told BuzzFeed News, who first reported the story. “We wanted to make clear that a person can use facilities that match their gender identity, and we think that’s a good thing.”
Kaeley Triller, a single mother and social conservative community organizer, warned that the new transgender bathroom policy “isn’t safe and won’t end well for Team XY.”
A survivor of sexual abuse, she told The Daily Signal that the regulation is “reminiscent of exceptionally unpleasant circumstances … it’s about men taking what they want by force without regard to the people it hurts.”
The GSA regulation governs more than just restrooms though. A bulletin circulated to government agency heads explains that the regulation dictates access to “restroom facilities and related areas,” like locker rooms and showers.
Employers are also prohibited, the bulletin states, from asking for proof that an individual has undergone “surgery or any other medical procedure” before allowing them access to the facilities of their choice.
The new regulation comes as part of President Barack Obama’s legacy push to extend nondiscrimination laws and civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Justice have already ruled that prohibitions on sex-based discrimination also encompass gender identity. And in May, the Department of Education instructed public schools across the country to allow transgender students to use whatever bathroom matches their gender identity.
The administration’s education directive immediately triggered a legal challenge. Two dozen states have filed suit, accusing the Obama administration of overreach.
The administration’s combined LGBT effort has accelerated the contrast between Democrats and Republicans in this area. The GOP platform opposes “wrongly redefining” sex discrimination to include sexual orientation as a plot “to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people.”
Congress has been away from the District of Columbia on August recess, and the Republican response to the administration’s transgender guidelines has been sporadic.
One Republican who did respond to the news, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, blasted the regulation as overly emotional.
“We should base our laws on facts, not on feelings,” Walker told The Daily Signal. “When you legislate based on feelings you can create unintended consequences of placing others in potentially harmful situations.”
Social conservative groups, like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council, agreed and were quick to decry the new regulation as “a political power play.”
“They want to dictate on the national level what every school and government facility must do,” said Matt Sharp, ADF legal counsel, “rather than let them find local, individualized solutions that fit their population, values, and the needs of the people using those facilities.”
Social conservatives complain that the new regulation comes at the cost of the privacy rights of women and children. They argue that there’s nothing to stop predators from abusing transgender bathrooms to prey on their victims.
Liberal groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, have praised the regulation as a step toward ensuring equality for all transgender people.
“Every person should be able to access government programs, facilities, and services without fear of discrimination,” Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign’s communications director, who is openly transgender, said in a statement.
Without access to restrooms of their choice in government buildings, Brown argued, “it becomes much harder for [transgender Americans] to serve on juries, go to a VA hospital for care, or submit necessary documentation at a Social Security office.”
The new regulation will cover nearly all of the 1 million federal civilian workers employed at GSA-managed facilities. That’s a disparate impact considering that recent studies show that just 0.6 percent of the adult population in the United States identifies as transgender.
“It’s really social engineering when many people of faith, people of modesty, and people who have safety concerns are being ignored,” said Roger Severino, director of the Devos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
Severino predicted that the new regulation would spark litigation and blowback against the administration.
“There’s a good chance you will see lawsuits brought against this regulation and the more that are filed, the sooner the administration will get the message,” Severino said.