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Nothing gives the president "power to be the bathroom police," U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz declared at the Republican Party of Texas convention as he took fierce issue with an Obama administration letter to public schools distributed the day before.
In the May 13, 2016, letter, federal agencies cited a decades-old federal law barring discrimination in educational settings as the basis for telling school superintendents nationally to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Cruz, fresh off his bid for president, told delegates: "The president issued a decree to every public school in America demanding that they change their bathroom policies, demanding that every public school now allow grown men and boys into little girls’ bathrooms. We have entered the world of politically correct lunacy."
Did Cruz accurately sum up the Obama directive?
To our emailed request for the basis of Cruz’s statement, Cruz spokesman Phil Novack said only: "By the very text of the directive you linked, anyone in a public school, whether they are students or adults (which includes adult 18-year old students), would be able to enter any restroom." Novack also accurately noted the guidance also applies to colleges that accept federal aid.
Obama administration letter
We asked a Department of Education spokeswoman, Dorie Nolt, if the directive, particularly the portion on access to restrooms and locker rooms, would also apply to adults in schools.
By email, Nolt replied: "Our guidance is related to students."
For our part, we noticed that the letter in question doesn’t tell schools to let men into girls’ restrooms; it doesn’t say anything about adults in public schools. And its language about students is focused on transgender boys and girls whose gender identity doesn’t match their sex assignment at birth.
The eight-page letter from the U.S. departments of Justice and Education tells school districts to be compliant with Title IX protections against sex discrimination by allowing students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with.
The letter, also affecting says the agencies are offering "significant guidance" on policies related to transgender students in relation to athletics, housing and overnight accommodations and education records, among areas.
In regard to restrooms and locker rooms, the letter states:
"A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy."
And what qualifies as "transgender"? Here’s how the Obama administration letter defines it: "Transgender describes those individuals whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender male is someone who identifies as male but was assigned the sex of female at birth; a transgender female is someone who identifies as female but was assigned the sex of male at birth." The letter defines gender identity as "an individual’s internal sense of gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth."
The National Center for Transgender Equality, a social justice advocacy organization for transgender people, says a transgender individual is a person whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Otherwise, the American Psychological Association defines transgender as "an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth."
Then again, there are professionals who dispute such definitions. For instance, Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist formerly at Johns Hopkins University, said in a June 12, 2014, Wall Street Journal commentary: "At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. ‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible," McHugh said. "People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder."
Debate over whether a transgender person should use the bathroom aligning with his or her gender identity or gender assigned at birth picked up steam after North Carolina lawmakers in March 2016 passed a measure into law requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate in public multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities.
In Texas in April 2016, the superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, Kent Scribner, approved bathroom policy guidelines Scribner described as a call to meet the needs of the district’s transgender students. Then on May 9, 2016, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick called for the superintendent to resign. Less than a week later, the Education and Justice departments sent their letter, which was met with a lawsuit, filed May 25, 2016, against the administration by Texas and 10 other states.
Cruz said Obama issued a decree "demanding that every public school now allow grown men and boys into the little girls’ bathroom."
Federal agencies told schools to let transgender students use the restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Yet that letter of guidance says nothing about grown men or other adults, leaving this claim with just an element of truth provided you believe, as Cruz apparently does, that a transgender person born a boy remains a boy.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Video, Ted Cruz Speaks at the Texas GOP Convention!, The Right Scoop, May 14, 2016
Letter, Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students, U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education, May 13, 2016
Emails, Phil Novack, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, June 7, 13, 20, 21, 2016
Emails, Dorie Nolt, Department of Education Spokesperson, June 7, 8, 9, 22, 23, 2016
Web page, National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Terminology, Jan. 15, 2014
Commentary, Wall Street Journal, Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution, Paul McHugh, June 12, 2014, updated May 13, 2016
Law, North Carolina, House Bill 2, March 23, 2016
News article, Texas Tribune, Patrick Wants Fort Worth Superintendent to Resign, May 9, 2016
Statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Lt. Gov Patrick asks Fort Worth ISD Parents to Speak Out Against Unilateral Action of Superintendent, May 9, 2016
Lawsuit, Case 7:16-cv-00054-O, May 25, 2016
Web page, Overview of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, U.S Justice Department, August 7, 2015
Phone interview and emails, Joy Baskin, Director of Legal Services, Texas Association of School Boards, June 20 and 23, 2016
Truth-O-Meter article, Ted Cruz's boys showering with girls claim False, but transgender student rights are unsettled, PolitiFact Texas, Dec. 9, 2015
Web page, American Psychological Association, What does transgender mean?, Accessed June 23, 2016
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