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GOP states sue to block federal regulations on LGBTQ+ preferred bathrooms


A culture war over school rules for LGBTQ students is coming to a head. First, many Republican-led states banned trans students from using their preferred bathroom. In response, the Biden administration is rolling out a new federal regulation that could end those laws. In response to that, Tennessee and several other GOP states are suing to block that rule. Marianna Bacallao from member station WPLN reports.

MARIANNA BACALLAO, BYLINE: Lennon Freitas was 13 years old on a family trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida when he realized he wanted to use the boy's bathroom after a long day of drinking butterbeer.

LENNON FREITAS: My mom was like, what's wrong? I was like, I don't want to go to the girls' bathroom. She's like, do you not have to pee? I was like, no, I have to pee really bad. I just - I don't want to go. I want to go to the boys' bathroom.

BACALLAO: His mom asked a family friend to let him use the men's restroom in the employee offices.

FREITAS: It was such a euphoric, comforting experience. I was just so happy and nervous but just comforted by being able to go into the restroom that I feel most comfortable with.

BACALLAO: As a rising senior in Nashville, Freitas hasn't been able to use the bathroom that aligns with his gender for most of his high school career. That's because of a Tennessee law from 2021 that bans trans kids from using their preferred bathroom. New regulations could change that for Freitas' upcoming senior year. Under the new guidelines, states with bathroom bans like Tennessee's could lose out on federal education funding. But Tennessee's Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is leading a challenge against the new rules.


JONATHAN SKRMETTI: Today, Tennessee filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Cardona, challenging the Department of Education's new Title IX rule.

BACALLAO: Skrmetti argues the new rule violates the First Amendment. He says Title IX, which bans sex-based discrimination in education, has changed a lot from when it was first put into place.


SKRMETTI: The conditions at the time that the state agreed to take the money were very different than the conditions that the government seeks to impose now. That's a constitutional violation.

BACALLAO: Tennessee has its own law on the books that would take funding from schools that allow trans girls to play on girls' sports teams. Ahead of this year's legislative session, some Republican leaders considered rejecting more than a billion dollars in federal education funding in order to circumvent federal rules like this one. Lawmakers quietly dropped the issue earlier this year after a report found the state could still be subject to federal requirements even if it did reject the money. Skrmetti says he's confident because a judge temporarily blocked similar protections for LGBTQ students two years ago. Rutgers law professor Katie Eyer says a big part of that success came down to one thing.

KATIE EYER: They were filed before particular judges who are routinely sympathetic to these types of anti-LGBT arguments.

BACALLAO: There are several lawsuits across the country challenging federal LGBTQ protections. Skrmetti argues that the federal government is improperly redefining sex discrimination to include gender identity. Eyer says gender identity is already protected.

EYER: If you punish a transgender girl for showing up to school in a skirt, you are treating them differently than you would if they were assigned female at birth. And that's just the traditional definition of sex, right? It doesn't require redefining sex as gender identity.

BACALLAO: The new regulations are set to go into effect in August. Eyer predicts there will be a preliminary ruling before then. It's a tricky situation for Tennessee trans students like Freitas. As a rising senior, he doesn't have the years it might take for a final ruling, but he hopes the judge will allow the rule to go into effect for his last year.

For NPR News, I'm Marianna Bacallao in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEETWOOD MAC SONG, "ALBATROSS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Marianna Bacallao
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