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Jim GallowayJim Galloway

House Speaker David Ralston enters Fannin County flap over bathroom rules

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Speaker David Ralston. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Speaker David Ralston. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

So it looks like Georgia’s has its first North Carolina-inspired uproar over transgender individuals and bathroom use. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, in the middle of a GOP primary fight, has weighed in. Carefully.

First some background from Fetchyournews.com:

The Thursday night Fannin County Board of Education meeting will be at Fannin County High School cafeteria instead of the Board of Education office.  The time is still 6 pm….

The Board of Education has changed from the usual meeting location at the Board office to the cafeteria to accommodate expected protesters at the meeting. The protesters will be speaking about providing bathrooms for transgender students in the Fannin County School System.  The Board is not voting or making decisions regarding transgender bathrooms. Superintendent Mark Henson has stated that Fannin County Schools comply with US laws regarding civil rights of transgender students.

More from the Channel 2 Action news website:

Some members of the Fannin County community are outraged over what they say is the case of a transgender student using a school restroom that reflects a different sex than the child’s birth sex.

Parent Angel Chancey is threatening to take her kids out of school because of it.

“We’re going to do everything we can to stop this, and if not, then us moms are going to come home and teach our kids like it used to be,” said Chancey.

And more:

[Superintendent Mark Henson] said federal law protects these kids from being identified at all.

“We can’t go into detail whether we do or don’t have a transgender student,” said Henson.

But he did explain the school restroom rules. “That we have to allow transgender student to pick the restroom that they identify with, gender-wise.”

Henson says federal guidelines dictate that policy, too.

Fannin County is a major part of  Speaker Ralston’s Seventh District. And he’s in the middle of a second primary fight against retired wrestling coach Sam Snider, who lost to Ralston in 2014.

And so we have a letter from Ralston to U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, asking them to fend off any threats of lost federal funding. Writes Ralston, in part:

I recognize the sensitive nature of caring for and educating children and my intent in bringing this matter to your attention is not to single out any individual student or group of students.  Rather, my concern regarding this issue is that the federal government is dictating to our locally-elected Board of Education with regards to the policies they enact in a way never before seen. 

Using the power of the purse strings to bring about such change is, in my opinion, a vast overreach of federal authority and one that must not go unchallenged.  I recognize that there are no easy answers.  But decisions on issues such as this should be left to the locally-elected school boards and should be free of threats and coercion of the federal government.

Not that it would be a determining factor in a GOP primary, but an interesting data point about Fannin County emerged in the 2015 fight in the Legislature over “religious liberty” legislation:

[A]s percentage of population, Fannin and Gilmer counties in north Georgia have the fourth and fifth highest number of gay couples living together– behind only Fulton, DeKalb and Chatham counties.

You can read Ralston’s letter in its entirety below: