Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, as they say, a day to raise awareness on behalf of equal rights for LGBT persons around the world. Here in my particular corner of the world, one of our highest-ranking legal officials is taking a bold stand against equal rights, much to the delight of the Christian Coalition:
Capitol Update: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt: Obama's Transgender Actions Are Unlawful https://t.co/oRUdahQAkS
— Christian Coalition (@ccoalition) May 16, 2016
The body of Pruitt’s letter reads as follows:
We have reviewed the “significant guidance letter” issued today. Despite contending that it “does not add requirements to applicable law,” this letter most definitely changes the law in that it takes the unprecedented step of redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity.” Your citations to U.S. Supreme Court precedent and references to lower court cases and administrative action are disingenuous at best.
Further, you have forced this definition on parents, students, and communities because you have deemed unjustifiable any discomfort that they may express. Your determination thus elevates the status of transgender students over those who would define their sex based on biology and who would seek to have their definition honored in the most private of places. Indeed, those latter students and their families cannot even seek reassurance that a transgender student’s self-definition is not premised on whim or caprice because you have disavowed the school’s ability to seek any form of documentation regarding the transgender child’s self-definition.
Not only does this “significant guidance letter” attempt to redefine for all Americans their most fundamental beliefs about who they are, it compels schools to join with you in enforcing this new definition. By conditioning the receipt of federal funds on compliance with the “significant guidance letter,” schools have been given an ultimatum: take it or lose it. As you must know, this leaves many schools without any real choice. You have thus transformed the federal “carrot and stick” approach to school funding into “all stick.”
We believe that your actions today are unlawful and that they represent the most egregious administrative overreach to date. You have taken a public policy issue that must, by our constitutional design, be worked out in the laboratory of democracy and enforced it on all people. And you have done so through a misuse of the spending power.
Please be advised that if you attempt to enforce this “significant guidance letter” on schools in the State of Oklahoma, we will vigorously defend the State’s interests.
There is much wrong here, so much that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps most saliently, the Dear Colleague letter does not “redefine for all Americans their most fundamental beliefs about who they are” but rather takes notice of the obvious fact that treating people based on their sex at birth (while ignoring all other factors) is a form of sex discrimination. No one is being forced to redefine anything, indeed, the courts who interpret Title IX law are not bound by the strictures of the letter, which merely states the intentions of the administration. Should the judiciary choose to interpret sex discrimination as defined by those statutes more narrowly (or more broadly) the executive branch of the federal government would have to deal with their interpretation.
What I find most bizarre about Pruitt’s response is that he characterizes the letter as the “most egregious administrative overreach to date.” Given the number of potential candidates for administrative overreach, that is quite the bold claim. Evidently, the Oklahoma GOP believes that executive orders regarding deportation (which effect millions of people and their offspring) are less significant than guidance allowing a handful of transgender students at any given high school to use the restroom which corresponds to their sense of self.
This brings us back to the question of motivation: Why does AG Pruitt feel the need to enforce a strict binary based on sex at birth? My best guess is grounded in moral foundations theory, which posits several values (such as authority and sanctity) which matter vastly more to conservatives than they do to progressives.