Controversy over Texas 'bathroom bill,' transgender rights

- Musicians Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys along with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence are among more than 140 artists and celebrities condemning a Texas "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people.

Britney Spears and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel also signed a letter Tuesday criticizing the Republican-backed efforts as a "denial of basic human dignity." The bill would require people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

It's similar to a North Carolina law that prompted rockers Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen to cancel concerts in that state last year.

The Texas bill has yet to receive even a preliminary vote but public pressure is ratcheting up. Last week, the NFL suggested that Texas could be passed over for future Super Bowl sites if the proposal became law.

On a national level, hundreds of parents called on President Donald Trump to embrace Obama-era protections for transgender students that call for letting them use school bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity.

In a letter sent to the president by the Human Rights Campaign late Tuesday, more than 780 parents stressed that "all students deserve equal access to a safe, welcoming school and a high quality education no matter who they are."

The call follows a decision by the Trump administration last week to abandon a defense of the guidelines issued by the Obama administration. A court issued an injunction against those guidelines last summer in response to a lawsuit filed by 13 states.

President Barack Obama appealed the injunction, but on his first full day on the job, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled a shift away from Obama priorities when the Justice Department changed its legal position and backed off from the appeal. The department is no longer asking a judge to limit an injunction restricting the federal government from telling schools that students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.

Transgender rights were a focus of the department under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who sued the state of North Carolina over a bathroom bill that the government said discriminated against transgender people. Such a move would be improbable in an administration like Trump's, which has already signaled its deference to states' rights.

Parents of transgender students say that revoking the right of students to use school bathrooms according to their gender identity amounts to discrimination and it creates a hostile learning environment for transgender students. "These policies are wrong, they hurt our children, and they violate the principle of equal education," the letter said.

Conservative activists firmly oppose the idea, saying it endangers the privacy and safety of other students.

It's unclear exactly what priorities Sessions will pursue when it comes to the civil rights division. The Justice Department declined to comment on his plans for enforcement of religious freedom. He has faced intense criticism of his record on civil rights with regard to race.

A renewed focus on religious causes would be "especially troubling in light of the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are not religious," said Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty. "This landscape is radically different."

But it would help satisfy Trump's campaign promise to his Christian political base. While the appointment of Sessions is a promise fulfilled, some religious conservatives remain concerned that Trump won't deliver. When he was Indiana's governor, Vice President Mike Pence signed a religious freedom law but softened it after criticism that it was discriminatory, a move that disappointed some conservatives.

Trump still has not signed an executive order to boost protections for those with religious objections to gay marriage and create a working group within the Justice Department to protect "the religious freedom of persons and religious organizations."

Newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not voiced a position on the bathrooms controversy other than to say that she is against discrimination and will support all students.

During the election campaign Trump said that transgender students can use the bathroom they like. 

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