Boston — U.S. Secretary of Education John King says laws restricting which bathrooms transgender students can use, such as North Carolina's House Bill 2, should be rolled back, but he stopped short of threatening any loss of federal funding.
"They are hateful laws, and should be repealed," King told the Education Writers Association conference in Boston on Monday.
He said the laws send "a deeply problematic message to young people in schools and should be changed."
King, who was confirmed by the Senate on March 14, stopped short of talking about any potential loss of federal funding as a result of the measures, but he did reference the possibility in his remarks.
Opponents of House Bill 2, which lawmakers passed in March in reaction to a local nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council, have said for weeks that the measure could put billions of dollars in federal education funding at risk. While the federal government can't order a school district or a state to change its policy toward transgender individuals, it can withhold federal funding.
That issue is at the heart of a lawsuit in Virginia that was recently the subject of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that could have an impact on North Carolina. Backers of such bathroom privacy laws, including Gov. Pat McCrory, have said in that case that President Barack Obama's administration over-reached in interpreting a section of the Title IX gender-equity law. But transgender advocates and the administration maintain federal law requires that transgender students be able to use the restroom and locker room that correspond with their gender identity.
The 4th Circuit judges appeared to give some deference to the administration's argument, although they did not settle the case one way or the other. Instead, it has gone back to a lower court for trial.
"I don’t want to get ahead of enforcement actions we may take in regards to North Carolina and Mississippi," King said. "My hope is legislators will realize they have made a terrible mistake."
Although bills have been filed to repeal House Bill 2 in the North Carolina legislature, General Assembly leaders say that a full repeal is unlikely and any potential changes would likely focus on a part of the bill unrelated to the restroom provisions.