CINCINNATI -- The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it will revoke U.S. transgender guidelines, stepping into an emotional national issue and stripping students of federal protections to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching gender identities that differ from their birth certificates, the Associated Press reported.
The administration came down on the side of states' rights, revoking federal guidelines that had been issued by the Obama administration. Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
For transgender people, deciding whether to use female or male-marked facilities can be an agonizing process in which both possible roads lead to ridicule. According to Shawn Jeffers of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization that focuses on LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, the anxiety surrounding that decision can rule some students’ entire days.
"Many young people will tell me, ‘I don’t go to the bathroom at school. I hold it all day long, and so as a result, I’m not drinking water. I'm not eating lunch because I don’t want to deal with the hassle,'" he said.
Alex Nix was one of those students. He would spend entire days at school avoiding the bathroom in order to avoid the accompanying crisis of making a decision.
Alex, an 18-year-old senior at Lakota West High School, knew at age 14 that he didn't feel comfortable identifying as a girl anymore. His mother, Linda, said Wednesday night that his epiphany was a shock with which their family initially struggled -- not for any lack of love for Alex, but out of uncertainty about how to proceed.
"That's when I realized that everything I had always thought would be, wouldn't be," Linda Nix said. She added, "I never realized the rights that my child wouldn't have when he became transgender."
Rights, she and Alex said, like being able to use the bathroom without having to worry about bullying or harassment. Regardless of the way his birth certificate might look, Alex himself identifies and presents as a boy -- if forced to use the girls' restroom, his mother said, he would look as out of place as any other boy entering that space.
"He would get his a** kicked," Linda said.
For Alex's part, he said Wednesday that he was not especially worried for his own sake -- he will graduate from Lakota West within the year. He was, however, worried about transgender students who might have years left in a space where their basic bodily needs become political sticking points.
"I just can't understand why people would want to take this away," he said. "They aren't protecting students. They might think they are protecting students that might feel uncomfortable, but if you go and ask on a student-to-student basis, nobody cares."
Obama’s executive order was a positive step forward, Jeffers said, and rescinding it would be a setback for LGBTQ rights organizations as well as vulnerable transgender students. Although anti-bullying guidelines will remain in place, the fact of having these protections revoked could be emotionally damaging in and of itself, he said.
"It makes (transgender students) feel that their identity is not being valued and that they are maybe not feeling safe," he said.
Although Senator Rob Portman criticized President Obama’s executive order as "administrative action by fiat," he declined to comment on the news Wednesday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.