Maine advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender rights say a federal court ruling in Texas on bathroom access in public schools is unlikely to have any impact here because the state’s Human Rights Act and a 2014 court case already affirm the rights of transgender individuals.

A Texas judge temporarily blocked an Obama administration directive meant to expand bathroom access for transgender students in the nation’s public schools, the latest development in an ongoing battle pitting the federal government and LGBT advocates against those who believe the policy violates student privacy and infringes on states’ rights.

Texas and a dozen other states sued in an attempt to block the federal directive shortly after it was released in May, and in a 38-page opinion issued Sunday, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas temporarily prohibited the federal government from enforcing it as that lawsuit proceeds, the Washington Post reported.

The Obama administration has said that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and school facilities that match their gender identity, citing it as a civil rights issue protected under the federal sex-discrimination law known as Title IX.

O’Connor also ruled that the federal Education and Justice departments may not launch or complete any investigations based on the Obama administration’s interpretation that Title IX’s “definition of sex includes gender identity.”

The states argued that the federal government had overstepped its authority and effectively issued new regulations for Title IX without going through the proper federal rule-writing process. Opponents of the policy have argued that it abridges student privacy rights and potentially puts them at risk in the assumed safe-spaces of single-sex bathrooms.

In granting a preliminary injunction against the government’s guidance, O’Connor ruled that the states were likely to win the case on the merits of their arguments. O’Connor’s ruling takes effect just as students across the country are returning to class after summer vacation.

Matt Moonen, executive director of Equality Maine, said Sunday’s decision has no impact in Maine and he expects it to be appealed.

“We’re not concerned that our law is going to change in Maine and we’ve proven that we have a majority of voters on our side,” Moonen said Monday. “But I don’t think it’s productive for folks to fixate on this issue when we have actual problems.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage was among those who signed the Texas lawsuit back in May, although the governor joined the suit as an individual, not on behalf of the state. His office said at the time that the president was “dictating by fiat and governors are pushing back.”

The Maine Attorney General’s Office said at the time that the suit would not change the law in Maine.

“The governor’s position in this particular matter … appears to be inconsistent with the law of Maine as enunciated by the Maine Supreme Court recently,” Timothy Feeley, the AG’s spokesman, said in May.

LePage had joined other Republican officials in a similar case last December in Virginia, where state leaders sought to block a transgender boy’s challenge of his school’s bathroom policy. In that case, an appeals court sided with the boy.

Maine’s Human Rights Act protects against discrimination, including against transgender individuals. In 2014, the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of Nicole Maines, an Orono girl who sued that school district after she was told in 2007 that she needed to use the bathroom that matched her gender at birth when the grandparent of another student, a boy, complained. Maines was born a boy but has identified as a girl for nearly all of her life.

LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the Texas ruling Monday.

In February, LePage stopped his Department of Education from issuing rules to protect transgender students, saying the Legislature needs to pass a law first.

Democrats and others have criticized LePage for inserting himself into the debate.

“The first thing to note is that Maine students are protected under Maine law. This injunction has no effect on them,” said Zach Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “But I’m very concerned that this ruling sends a message that it’s acceptable to bully and abuse students who are transgender.”

The lawsuit was filed in May by Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia, and the Republican governors of Maine, Mississippi and Kentucky. Two small school districts in Arizona and Texas, which have fewer than 600 students combined and no transgender persons on their campuses, also joined the effort to prevent the directive from being enforced.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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