Texas has spent the last few weeks positioning itself at the forefront of the growing conservative backlash against President Obama's directive that public schools allow transgender students access to bathrooms which align to their gender identity.
In response to the White House's "letter of guidance," TX Governor Greg Abbott compared the president to a monarch. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, demanded the president "come and take it," without specifying what the "it" in question actually was. And recently, flanked by 10 other states, including Wisconsin and Arizona, Texas announced it would be suing the Obama Administration over both the interpretation and scope of the directive.
However, as much as Obama's initiative may have kicked Texas' anti-transgender posturing into high gear, residents of the Lone Star State are just months away from an entirely homegrown form of anti-trans discrimination going into effect.
In late February of this year, Texas school district superintendents and athletic officials voted in favor of an amendment that would, in essence, prevent transgender students from playing school sports on teams with their cisgender classmates. Per the University Interscholastic League, the University of Texas at Austin-based body which governs the state's high school sports, students will need to use their birth certificate when demonstrating their gender in regards to athletics.
The amendment reads:
GENDER SHALL BE DETERMINED BASED ON A STUDENT’S BIRTH CERTIFICATE. IN CASES WHERE A STUDENT’S BIRTH CERTIFICATE IS UNAVAILABLE, OTHER SIMILAR GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF IDENTIFICATION MAY BE SUBSTITUTED.
The new policy is set to begin on August 1.
"These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Paul Castillo, an attorney who works with LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, explained to the Texas Observer. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools."
As Equality Texas statewide transgender organizer Lou Weaver told Houston Public Media, the updated policy may not be localized to sports. "The UIL also impacts choir, band, and other things," explained Weaver. "So this has a broad reaching implication to our transgender students who want to participate in these kind of extracurricular activities while they’re in school."
But while the amendment may have passed overwhelmingly (409 votes in favor, only 25 votes against) opponents argue that the new policy is on shaky ground in regards to both the Department of Education's Title IX—where discrimination on the basis of sex risks the loss a school's federal funding—as well as the UIL's constitution itself. As Texas Observer points out, because the UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, the organization is barred from passing legislation that contradicts with university policy. And, UT does, in fact, ban "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression."
Given the elevated threat of an anti-discrimination lawsuits following Obama's directive regarding bathroom access, it remains to be seen whether this new policy will be challenged in court before the coming school year. If it does go into effect, however, expect Texas to become the next major battleground in the ongoing fight for transgender rights in bathrooms—and locker rooms—across the country.