NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Obama Administration's directive to the nation's public schools prompted strong reaction locally on both sides.
"This will quite simply let them concentrate on getting their education the same as anybody else, that's the thing we're most excited about. The statistics for trans-youth being bullied and harassed in school are actually frightening," said Corrine Green, a trans-woman who is also secretary of the organization, Louisiana Trans Advocates.
She said some transgender young people struggle to deal with the discrimination they face.
"The rates of suicide for trans-kids are extremely high, especially those who report being bullied in schools," said Green.
The U.S. Education Department and the Department of Justice released formal guidance to school districts nationwide to ensure that transgender students can attend school in an environment free of discrimination. The letter does not impose any new legal requirements, but federal officials said it is meant to clarify school districts' obligations to provide students with non-discriminatory environments.
The guidance states that schools must treat transgender students consistent with the students' gender identity, even if school records or identification documents indicate a different sex.
However, the guidance says schools can provide additional privacy options to any student for any reason and does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces when other appropriate options are available.
"I think it's a form of insanity for several reasons. First of all, how do you define the class? Because most classes are defined by immutable characteristics that don't change such as race, religion, age. But now the problem with defining the class of quote gender identity and trans-gender is you lose that detail," said local attorney Doug Sunseri, who has spoken on transgender legislation at the state capitol.
The Louisiana Department of Education issued this statement in response to the directive out of Washington:
"The United States Department of Education has sent a letter to all school systems interpreting pre-existing federal law to require schools to grant specific rights to children based on the gender identity listed by their parents. Louisiana's children deserve to be treated fairly, no matter their race, sex or gender identity. The Louisiana Department of Education's legal staff is reviewing the United States Department of Education's letter and will provide assistance to Louisiana's school districts in addressing the needs of their students."
"I'd be surprised if they need to review policy. They may need to add a sentence saying, 'this means that transgender people use the bathroom that they're comfortable using,'" said Marjorie Esman with the ACLU.
Sunseri thinks there are privacy and safety issues.
"This is a doorway to allow people to say, 'You know what? I have the right to go use this bathroom based on how I perceive myself.' And that could be a doorway for predators, especially with men in women's bathrooms, and this is no different in schools," he said.
"There's nothing to prevent a man from putting on a dress right now and walking into a ladies room right now if he's going to do that. If he does that for improper purposes like voyeurism, or sexual assault that is a crime," said Esman.