gender neutral toilet
Gender-neutral toilets could be a thing of the past in US schools Reuters

The US president has rescinded guidelines which allow transgender students to use toilets and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The initiative, introduced by the Obama administration in May 2016, was hailed as a landmark move for trans rights to protect against discrimination.

So what does this mean?

In the UK, transgender people are legally allowed to use whichever public toilet they feel most comfortable in, but this is not the case in the US.

Last year, Obama introduced a piece of federal guidance requiring transgender students to have access to bathrooms that reflect their gender identity, not necessarily their biological sex.

Under the directive, schools were threatened with the withdrawal of federal funding if they forced trans students to use certain toilets against their will.

Obama's move was based on the notion that forcing students to use a bathroom against their will was a violation of Title IX – the federal law that bans discrimination based on sex.

The Trump administration has now reversed these guidelines, which means states and school districts will now be able to decide whether or not to allow trans students access to bathrooms that do not match their biological sex. The move could allow schools to severely restrict trans rights.

What are the arguments for and against Obama's directive?

Although the right to choose a male or female toilet may seem trivial to some, the argument is about ensuring trans people have the right to the same access as facilities as non-trans people, therefore avoiding gender-based discrimination.

One of the key issues is the prevention of harassment and assault and the protection of mental well-being. Studies have shown trans students can be subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse if required to use a bathroom against their choice.

A study commissioned by the UCLA think tank the Williams Institute published in 2013 found 68% of those surveyed were subjected to verbal harassment in gender-segregated bathrooms. Nine per cent of people said they had been physically assaulted at least once.

Trans students already face harassment, abuse and violence in schools. Although all sexual minorities are vulnerable, transgender youth face additional challenges – with a recent report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network revealing that 75% of students already feel unsafe at school.

When Obama introduced the bathroom initiative, critics argued the move was a violation of social norms and privacy and was a federal intrusion into local affairs. Conservative groups in the US used adverts to exploit fears of sexual predators to campaign against Obama's directive.