ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton wants Minnesota schools to continue protecting transgender students' restroom rights.
He urged schools to continue following Obama administration recommendations to allow transgender students to use restrooms matching their gender identity. The Trump administration on Wednesday, Feb. 22, withdrew that guidance, saying states and schools should make such decisions on their own.
"This is not a state's rights issue, this is a human rights issue," Democrat Dayton said Thursday. "And it should be a constitutionally protected right."
The governor said he strongly disagrees with the Republican administration of President Donald Trump "to withdraw the protection that his predecessor provided."
He said there are no specific Minnesota laws that address what restroom transgender students should use, but a related state Supreme Court decision makes it "appear that each Minnesota school district has the authority, and the responsibility, to develop its own guidelines for which bathrooms transgender students should be allowed to use in their schools."
The Obama administration had instructed public schools last May to let transgender students use the bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity, threatening to withhold funding for schools that did not comply. Transgender people hailed the step as victory for their civil rights. Republican Trump rescinded those guidelines, even though they had been put on hold by a federal judge, arguing that states and public schools should have the authority to make their own decisions without federal interference. While the Trump order does not place any requirements on Minnesota schools, Dayton said, "I strongly urge school board members to adhere to the directives established by the Obama administration."
He said he does not understand how people can turn transgender students into villains, as he thinks is being done.
"As a person of Christian faith, I am mystified that others, who profess to be people of faith, could demonize schoolchildren, who simply want to go to the bathroom," Dayton said. "The vile fantasies some of those adults conjure up, which supposedly require their 'protection,' are more accurately reflections of their own imaginations than real-world realities."
Some Republican state lawmakers back legislation requiring students to use the bathroom facilities of their birth gender.
The conservative Minnesota Family Council praised the Trump administration action.
"As a result of the decision last night, school administrators no longer face federal coercion to adopt policies that they know compromise the safety, privacy and dignity of their students, especially girls," the council's Stephani Liesmaki said. "The Trump administration made a common sense decision. No one should expect young girls to undress or be exposed to a member of the opposite sex in intimate settings like showers and locker rooms." On the other hand, the state's teacher union was not happy with the Trump decision.
"Educators go to work in public schools every day because we believe every child has the potential to be great," Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said. "Every child, period. We don't teach hate. We don't tolerate bullying. We don't exclude children because of their religion, race, immigration status, ZIP code, special needs, gender or sexual orientation."
Reuters Media contributed to this story.