WH: Bathroom Controversy Started by Republicans 'Seeking a Political Advantage'

By Susan Jones | May 18, 2016 | 10:21am EDT
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Republicans started the "confrontation" over transgender bathroom use "because they are seeking a political advantage." (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - After embracing the notion that gender is as much mental as it is physical, the Obama White House on Tuesday rejected the suggestion that it has been particularly aggressive on transgender issues.

"This is a confrontation that Republicans have sought out rather cynically, because they are seeking a political advantage," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at Tuesday's briefing.

Earnest said Republicans in North Carolina started the controversy by passing legislation (HB2), which negated a Charlotte city ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

On May 9, the Obama Justice Department sued North Carolina for allegedly discriminating against transgenders in violation of federal civil rights law, which bars discrimination based on "sex." (The Obama Justice Department believes the word "sex" includes "gender identity.")

Four days after suing North Carolina, the Obama administration issued new "guidance" to the nation's public schools, explaining how they must accommodate the small number of students whose gender identity does not correspond with their biological sex. Boys who identify as girls may use the girls' bathrooms and changing rooms, and vice-versa.

Earnest said the comments he's seen from Republicans "makes clear that they're not really interested in helping schools across the country confront what is a difficult policy challenge. They'd rather just cynically try to appeal to people's fears in order to try and gin up political support for their campaigns.

"And that's not the approach that the administration has taken," he insisted.

Earnest said the May 12 guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice was not a top-down dictate, but rather came in response to "specific requests from school administrators across the country" on how to deal with transgender students.

"And these weren't just ideas that were developed by administrators in Washington, D.C. These are actually ideas that were developed by school administrators across the country who had found workable solutions that could be successfully applied in their schools. And sharing those ideas with school administrators across the country is a tangible, constructive offer of assistance that I think the majority of school administrators appreciated," Earnest said.

"And that's not the kind of constructive contribution that we've seen from conservatives. From conservatives, you basically have seen the suggestion that they don't really have a way of -- they haven't really put forward a specific suggestion for how they believe that the rule should be applied."

"The best that they seem to have come up with is suggesting that birth certificates should be examined before anybody can enter a public bathroom. So that doesn't make sense. That certainly is an indication that they are much more interested in politics than they are in actually trying to solve the problem."

Earnest also rejected a suggestion in The Wall Street Journal that Democrats have deliberately started another culture war to boost liberal voter turnout. Among other things, the editorial mentioned the Obama administration's "preoccupation with sex."

"I thought that was a rather amusing observation on their part, because it's Republicans who have, for example, passed this HB2 law in North Carolina," Earnest said.

"It's Republicans in the Congress that have created a special congressional committee to take a look at Planned Parenthood. It's Republicans who have sued the administration over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including as it relates to women being able to get access to their birth control.

"So it's a curious observations by the Wall Street Journal that I don't think stands up to a lot of scrutiny."

The reporter asked Earnest if President Obama has decided to be more "forceful" on transgender issues because  he was criticized for being "sort of slow" to come around on gay marriage.

"No, I don't think so," Earnest replied. "And again, I think that at every stage, you know, it's this administration that fought for and successfully ended Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It's this administration that declined to continue defending the Defense of Marriage Act as litigation contesting that law wound its way through the courts.

"So again, I think as it relates to this issue, it is clear that it's Republicans who are seeking a political advantage and an administration that is seeking to offer tangible, practical advice to school administrators who are seeking to protect the safety and dignity of every student at their school."

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