Mississippi governor intends to join trans bathroom lawsuit

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EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant said Thursday that he is planning for Mississippi to join 11 states in suing the Obama administration for telling U.S. public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

“Our office has talked to the Texas attorney general’s office and I intend, as soon as possible, to join the lawsuit against this latest example of federal overreach,” Republican Bryant said in a statement.

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat in statewide office in Mississippi, said he won’t represent Bryant.

Hood joined a lawsuit last year to try to stop the Justice Department “from interfering with the way in which local schools operate their restrooms,” he said. Hood was on the losing side of that case. A federal appeals court panel ruled that a Virginia high school discriminated against a transgender teen by forbidding him from using the boys’ restroom.

“For that reason, I chose not to join the Texas lawsuit,” Hood said in a statement Thursday. “I also have concerns on issues of standing in the Texas suit because no federal funding has been withheld from any school. Moreover, I have a different legal opinion as to how the United States Supreme Court will finally decide the issue.”

Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said an attorney in the governor’s office will represent Bryant.

The U.S. departments of Education and Justice told states May 13 that public schools must treat transgender students in a way that matches their identity, even if school records or identity documents list a different sex.

Texas is taking the lead on the federal lawsuit announced Wednesday that asks a federal court in Texas to declare the federal guidance unlawful. It was joined in the suit by Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

The Mississippi Department of Education initially said May 13 that it would follow the federal guidance about transgender students. However, after coming under sharp criticism from Bryant and other top Republican elected officials, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright reversed course May 18 and said the department would “follow the lead of state leadership” and wait for the state Board of Education to decide what to do.

The state board met Monday and said it would not follow the federal guidance, but it stopped short of saying it would sue the Obama administration.

Rob Hill is Mississippi director of Human Rights Campaign, a civil-rights group for LGBT people. He said Thursday that the federal guidance was a response to educators wanting to provide a safe environment for transgender students amid fears of bullying and violence.

“His interest in the whole thing is dangerous political grandstanding that puts a target on the backs of transgender Mississippians in schools and workplaces around the state and transgender Americans across the country,” Hill said of Bryant.

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