Transgender bathroom
Mississippi has become the latest state to refuse the directive by the Obama administration over allowing transgender students to use the toilet of their choosing. Getty Images

Amid pressure from Republican state leaders, Mississippi State Superintendent Cary Wright backtracked the department's support of the federal transgender bathroom policy. Wright announced on Wednesday (18 May) that the Mississippi Department of Education would "follow the lead of state leadership" and take no action until the state Board of Education discusses the federal guidance.

The Massachusetts transgender anti-discrimination bill - referred to as S.735, which allows equal access to public places regardless of gender identity - was previously approved by the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday 12 May, by a vote of 33 to 4.

According to The Associated Press, education officials originally said on Friday (13 May) that they would follow the new guidance allowing transgender students to choose the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, citing a need for a "safe and caring school environment".

However, the decision to follow the guidance was questioned by Mississippi's Republican Governor, Phil Bryant. The State Governor urged education officials to dismiss the guidance, in a statement released on Friday, 13 May. "Because these decisions are better left to the states, and not made at the point of a federal bayonet, Mississippi's public schools should not participate in the president's social experiment," Bryant said, according to Reuters.

The governor applauded Wright's decision to reverse the department's compliance with the guidance. "As I said last week, the Mississippi Department of Education should not force the state's school children to participate in the Obama administration's social experiment," Bryant said. "I am encouraged by Dr Wright's actions and hope she and the Board of Education ultimately see fit not to implement this outrageous directive."

Mississippi vs The Obama administration directive

Mississippi has become the latest state to fight the Obama administration directive, outlining the non-legally binding guidance. While the courts have not definitively decided whether federal civil rights laws protect transgender people, the guidance does threaten school systems with potential lawsuits and withdrawal of federal funding.

The AP report also noted that Mississippi's K-12 schools received over $700m (£480.2m; €623.6m) in federal aid in the 2014-2015 school year and that federal funding makes up more than 30% of the budgets of districts serving state's poorest populations.

State Board of Education Chairman John Kelly said the board would have a special meeting within a fortnight to discuss the issue. "Dr Wright and I had a general discussion, but it was her decision to reverse this," Kelly told reporters.

Wright's decision followed a letter from 27 Republican state senators who called for "swift and decisive action on this urgent matter". The senators wrote that "Dr Wright made the decision to usurp the board's authority and unilaterally issue the policy decision to acquiesce to the illegal demands of the federal government. For this, the superintendent must be held accountable."

That letter was preceded by another letter from 11 Republican House members calling on Wright to reverse the department's decision or to resign, the AP reported. "The policy of allowing boys or men into bathrooms and locker rooms with girls poses a threat to the safety and well-being of every school-aged girl in this state," the House members wrote.

However, activists from transgender rights organisations note that there is no statistical evidence of such violence, following reports earlier in May that North Carolina officials were re-evaluating their stance on the use of Pepper Sprays as a 'defensive measure' in toilets.

Vincent Villano, director of communications for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Mic that NCTE has "not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public's stereotypes and fears about transgender people."