Transgender activists, attorney respond to White House position on bathroom guidelines

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FLINT (WJRT) - (2/23/17) - President Donald Trump's rollback of Obama-era guidelines that said transgender students should use the bathroom of their choice is prompting response from our state's education system as well as LGBTQ organizations.

The Michigan Department of Education said that the state board of education's voluntary guidance issued back in September 2016 still stands, and the administration's latest maneuver doesn't change that.

The state board's guidelines say, in part, "students should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Alternative and non-stigmatizing options, such as an all-gender or single-user restroom, should be made available to all students who request them."

Genevieve Field with the Equality Caucus of Genesee County is working to ensure protections for transgender people.

"It's very dangerous for students to not be able to feel who they are. Personally speaking, as a transgender woman, when you have to hide who you are you can't be who you are." Field continued, "And, I would have loved to have been able to be myself in school and to just spend more of my life as a woman. So it's just really difficult and really dangerous and leads to a lot of depression and a lot of suicides as well."

Field says they're working towards equal rights for the entire LGBTQ community, and she wants everyone to know that this is much more than an issue about bathrooms.

Vanessa Prygoski reflected on her childhood, growing up in the 60s in a conservative Metro-Detroit family. She couldn't help but think of trans children like herself, who could be impacted by the reversal.

"For us to be safe we couldn't be out, so yeah this is definitely a step back and it really makes me afraid for trans children, especially in conservative areas that they may face harassment and not be able to live their lives."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the issue again Thursday, reiterating that it's a states' rights issue, but attorney Flint Glenn Simmington says that didn't work so well for North Carolina's House Bill 2.

"I think that's basically the new federal position is that their...they shouldn't be involved in this. North Carolina is a state that got heavily involved in this issue and they suffered economically and in other ways," he said.

Now LGBTQ activists find themselves having to regroup and refocus. They are hoping to affect change on the local level.

"We're not surprised by it but we're disappointed in him and we hope that school districts in the area will continue to protect all students, including LGBTQ students so they can learn and thrive," Field said.

But without transgender protections under state law, they are fighting an uphill battle.

"Michigan Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act does not designate transgender people as a protected class. There have been statutes or at least bills introduced in the past to try to get that done and they haven't passed," said Simmington.

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