Nathan Deal on why Georgia challenged the federal transgender directive

Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia’s decision to join a federal lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s controversial bathroom guidelines was not aimed at targeting transgender rights but a response to “arbitrary overreach” by the federal government.

The governor said the Obama administration flouted local control in drafting guidance that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, saying a “one-size-fits-all solution to this is totally inappropriate.”

A new sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale high school in Seattle. President Obama’s directive ordering schools to ,accommodate transgender students has been controversial in some places but since 2012 Seattle has mandated that transgender students be able to use of the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. AP/Elaine Thompson

Transgender bathroom. AP/Elaine Thompson

“We thought that this was an appropriate time to challenge that authority. Nothing has officially happened in terms of withholding funds, but the threat was made that it could happen,” said Deal, who said he consulted with Attorney General Sam Olens before the lawsuit was filed. He added: “It’s important enough for us to not allow an arbitrary overreach by the president to take away or jeopardize that constant funding.”

Obama’s guidance was released days after the U.S. Department of Justice and North Carolina filed near-simultaneous lawsuits over the state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom at schools and other public places that matches the sex on their birth certificates.

In this 2015 photo, a demonstrator holds a sign protesting a Houston ordinance that was eventually repealed. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

In this 2015 photo, a demonstrator holds a sign protesting a Houston ordinance that was eventually repealed. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The directive is not a mandate and does not carry the force of law, but schools that ignore it could potentially lose federal funding. The federal government provides about $2 billion a year to Georgia in k-12 education funding.

Critics of the lawsuit, led by Texas and involving 11 states in all, cast it as a challenge to civil rights protections for vulnerable transgender students. And U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has not backed off her support for the guidelines.

“We stand with you,” she said to the transgender community earlier this month, “and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

More: Georgia’s challenge to the transgender guidelines opens new front in bathroom wars

More: Georgia GOP leaders prepare for 2017 fight over transgender rules

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