Obama administration tells schools to give transgender students bathroom rights

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Obama to issue directive on trans rights

The Obama administration told U.S. public school districts across the country on Friday to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity, rather than their gender at birth.

The new guidance comes as the Justice Department and North Carolina battle in federal court over a state law passed in March that prohibits people from using public restrooms not corresponding to their biological sex.

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Officials from the Education and Justice departments told schools that while the new guidance does not carry legal weight, they are obligated not to discriminate against students, including based on their gender identity.

"Our guidance sends a clear message to transgender students across the country: here in America, you are safe, you are protected and you belong - just as you are," Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the letter sent to school districts nationwide.

See the protests over the controversial bathroom law:

17 PHOTOS
North Carolina transgender bathroom law, protests, LGBT rights
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Obama administration tells schools to give transgender students bathroom rights
In this photo taken Thursday, May 12, 2016, signage is seen outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. North Carolina is in a legal battle over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate. The ADA-compliant bathroom signs were designed by artist Peregrine Honig. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A police officer confronts a lady holding a sign at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, during a rally in support of a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Supporters gather at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, in support of House Bill 2, a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the State Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Two protesters hold up signs against passage of legislation in North Carolina, which limits the bathroom options for transgender people, during a rally in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. The rally drew around 100 people at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
Demonstrators protesting passage of legislation limiting bathroom access for transgender people stand in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. Approximately 100 people gathered for the rally, many chanting and carrying signs. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
FILE - In this March 30, 2016 file photo, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Chad Griffin, center, speaks at a news conference at the old state Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C. Griffin was among several LGBT leaders who headed to the state to join in protests and plot strategy for trying to overturn a new law limiting bathroom options for transgender people. Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them. (AP Photo/Gary Robertson, File)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
North Carolina lawmakers gather on the House floor for a special session Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. to consider stopping a new Charlotte ordinance set to take effect April 1 that gives protections to transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
This March 10, 2015 photo shows a PayPal sign outside of the main entrance to an office building in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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The guidance contains an implicit threat that those not abiding by the Obama administration's interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.

As a condition of receiving federal funds, the letter said, a school agrees that it will not treat any person in its educational programs or activities differently on the basis of sex.

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It added that the administration's interpretation of existing regulations means that a school cannot treat a transgender student differently from other students of the same gender identity.

The issue of access to bathrooms by transgender people flared into a national controversy after North Carolina passed a law in March that made it the first state in the country to ban people from using multiple occupancy restrooms or changing rooms in public buildings and schools that do not match the sex on their birth certificate.

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Obama administration tells schools to give transgender students bathroom rights
Laverne Cox poses in the press room at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Chaz Bono arrives at the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday, April 12, 2014. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Tennis player Dr. Renee Richards, shown in action at stadium in Forest Hills, New York during U.S. Open tennis match on Sept. 1, 1977. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)
In this June 1, 2015 photo, a journalist looks at Vanity Fair's Twitter site with the Tweet about Caitlyn Jenner, who will be featured on the July cover of the magazine. Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, on Monday unveiled her new name and look in a sexy Vanity Fair cover shoot -- drawing widespread praise, including from the White House. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campaigners -- and many well-wishers -- welcomed the high-profile debut, as did the 65-year-old Jenner's family, which includes the media-savvy celebrity Kardashian clan. 'I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self,' Jenner wrote in her first tweet after the magazine released the July cover photo by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Writer Janet Mock attends Marie Claire's Second-Annual New Guard Lunch at Hearst Tower on October 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Marie Claire)
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2009 file photo, transgender activist and prominent AIDS leader Diego Sanchez talks about his work as a legislative assistant to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sanchez became the first transgender person named to the Democratic Party’s national platform committee. President Barack Obama, who established his bona fides as a gay and lesbian rights champion when he endorsed same-sex marriage, has steadily extended his administration’s advocacy to the community that comprises the smallest and least accepted band of the LGBT rainbow: transgender Americans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Carmen Carrera attends the OUT100 2014 Awards at Stage 48 on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
US transgender star Amanda Lepore arrives for the largest annual AIDS charity gala in Europe known as the Life Ball, at the Vienna International Airport near Schwechat, Austria, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Kye Allums attends the premiere screening of the MTV and Logo TV documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" at the Paramount Screening Room on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
U.S. Thomas Beatie, his wife Nancy and daughter Susan Juliette report in the RTL end-of-the-year review show "2008! People, Pictures, Emotions" in a TV studio in Huerth, western Germany, on Sunday evening, Dec. 7, 2008. The 34 years old Thomas Beatie was born as a women. After his sex change he was the first "pregnant man" in the world and he has born their daughter. Now he is in the second time in a pregnant situation , so he told in the show. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz)
Transgender former US Navy Seal Senior Chief Kristin Beck speaks during a conference entitled 'Perspectives on Transgender Military Service from Around the Globe' organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Palm Center in Washington on October 20, 2014. Transgender military personnel from 18 countries who allow them to serve openly, gathered to talk about their experiences and discuss whether the US military could join them. It is estimated that more than 15, 000 transgender personnel currently serve in the US military, but policy requires their separation if they are discovered, according to the ACLU. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Dana Beyer poses for a portrait at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. on Monday, June 9, 2008. Beyer is a transgender activist in Maryland's Montgomery County, where the county council voted 8-0 last year to extend civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Transgendered novelist and Colby College english professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, poses Monday, march 3, 2008 at her home in Belgrade Lakes, Maine. Boylan, 49, has become an activist for the nation's transgendered and one of the most widely recognized transsexuals of recent years. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 07: Model Gigi Gorgeous attends the NYLON Young Hollywood Party presented by BCBGeneration at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on May 7, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for NYLON)
Candis Cayne arrives to the 6th Annual Hollywood Style Awards on Sunday Oct. 11, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Katy Winn)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Mixed martial artist Fallon Fox attends the 2013 Emery Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on November 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Isis King attends the premiere screening of the MTV and Logo TV documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" at the Paramount Screening Room on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
Lana Lawless is photographed with a golf club, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010, in San Francisco. Lawless, a former police officer who underwent a sex change operation five years ago, is challenging the LPGA's ban on transgender players. She filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday in San Francisco federal court claiming the LPGA's "female at birth" requirement for competitors violates a California civil rights law. Lawless is seeking to prevent the LPGA from holding tournaments in the state until the organization changes its policy to admit transgender players. She is also seeking unspecified damages. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Model Lea T presents a creation by Teca by Helo Rocha during the 2016 Summer collections of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
Jenna Talackova (R) arrives for a press conference in Los Angeles with her attorner Gloria Allred (out of frame) on April 3, 2012. Canada's Miss Universe pageant said it would allow the transgendered model to compete in its pageant as long as Canada recognizes her gender as a woman. Talackova was previously disqualified, she said, because she used to be male. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, writer and producer Lana Wachowski poses on arrival for the Los Angeles Premiere of the film 'Jupiter Ascending' in Hollywood, California on February 2, 2015. The film opens on February 6. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Caitlyn Jenner attends the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
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The U.S. Justice Department this week asked a federal district court in North Carolina to declare that the state is violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act and order it to stop enforcing the ban.

North Carolina's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, and the state's secretary of public safety sued the agency in a different federal court in North Carolina, accusing it of "baseless and blatant overreach."

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