New federal rules on school bathrooms are designed to protect transgender students from bullying, President Obama said Monday.
"Anybody who has been in school, in high school, who has been a parent should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority — kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender — are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially," Obama told the web site Buzzfeed Monday.
It was his first public comment on the issue since the Department of Education announced the new guidelines last Friday.
"They are vulnerable, and I think it’s part of our obligation as a society to make sure everybody is treated fairly, and our kids are all loved and protected, and that their dignity is affirmed," he said.
The new guidelines require schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom and locker rooms that correspond to their chosen gender. And by invoking the sex discrimination law known as Title IX, the rules carry with them the threat of federal enforcement — including a loss of federal education funds. A number of state-level Republican officials have called the move federal overreach that violates the right of each state to determine education policy.
The federal guidance came the same week that the Department of Justice and North Carolina exchanged lawsuits over that state's new bathroom law. It requires people to use the public restrooms that correspond to the sex observed on their birth certificate.
"We said it is our view that you should treat these kids with dignity," Obama said. "Ultimately, depending on how these other lawsuits go, courts will affirm or reject how we see the issue."
Obama said that guidance came from the Department of Education in response to questions from schools about how to handle the bathroom accommodations, and was an effort to advise school districts on "best practices" on a range of transgender issues.
But the White House has also acknowledged that Obama was regularly consulted on the guidelines, and they reflect his own values. "I think it is fair to say — and I think it's important — that this kind of announcement reflects the President’s strongly held view about the need to prevent discrimination, but also the need to protect the safety and dignity of every student in America," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week.