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Arkansas governor says state won’t comply with new federal rules on treatment of trans students

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Thursday that the state won’t comply with a federal regulation that seeks to protect the rights of transgender students in the nation’s schools, joining other Republican-led states that are defying the new rules.

Sanders signed an executive order stating that Arkansas schools will continue to enforce restrictions on which bathrooms and pronouns transgender students can use, laws that could be invalidated by the new regulations on how to enforce Title IX.

“My message to Joe Biden and the federal government is that we will not comply,” Sanders said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

The regulation finalized last month seeks to clarify Title IX, a landmark 1972 sex discrimination law originally passed to address women’s rights and applied to schools and colleges receiving federal money. The regulations spell out that Title IX bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, too. Sanders called those changes a complete reinterpretation of the law.

Sanders’ order follows similar moves by several other states, including Texas and Oklahoma, that have told schools to not comply with the new regulation. Lawsuits have also been filed in federal courts in Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky challenging the rule. The multiple challenges give the states a better chance that one of them will put the rule on hold nationally.

Sanders’ order several follows moves by Arkansas to restrict the rights of transgender youth. The state has appealed a judge’s order striking down Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on gender affirming care for minors. A group of transgender, nonbinary and intersex residents sued the state earlier this week over its decision to no longer allow “X” instead of male or female on state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards.

“This act is a stark defiance of laws to protect against discrimination and a clear, aggressive attack on the well-being and freedoms of LGBTQ people in our state,” Megan Bailey, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement.

Sanders’ order calls on the state education department to give schools specific guidance, saying “at no point should Arkansas law be ignored.” In addition to laws on bathrooms and pronouns, the order cites Arkansas’ law restricting what teams transgender athletes can play on. The Biden administration’s new rules broadly protect against discrimination based on sex, but they don’t offer guidance around transgender athletes.

Brandon Wolf, senior director of political communications and national press secretary of the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, warned that the state’s refusal to comply could have damaging consequences including a significant loss in funding.

“That appears to be a sacrifice that those whose only priorities are themselves and their own political profiles are willing to make,” Wolf said in a statement.

Sanders said the state would pursue legal action for any loss of funding due to the new regulations.