BOSTON -- Education Secretary John King Jr. called for so-called bathroom laws to be repealed on Monday, hinting that his department won't sit on its hands if schools ignore federal law protecting the rights of LGBT students.
"They're hateful laws and should be repealed," King said at a conference for education reporters.
Among other things, HB 1523 in Mississippi allows schools and employers to discriminate against people who are trans, while HB 2 in North Carolina requires state universities to bar trans students from using locker rooms or bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. University of North Carolina officials have said they plan to abide by HB 2, but do not know how they are supposed to enforce it.
Opponents of these laws say they could threaten federal grants worth billions of dollars -- and if King's remarks are any indication, that seems to be true.
"I do not want to get ahead of enforcement actions we may take in regards to North Carolina and Mississippi," King said. "My hope is legislators will realize they've made a terrible mistake."
The Education Department has not acted on the laws yet. If a public university decides to abide by a state law by denying accommodations for trans students, then the university risks losing all federal funding because it's not complying with the federal gender equity law Title IX, which the Obama administration has said protects trans students from discrimination.
That could mean, for example, that no student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill could get a student loan or Pell Grant to attend college.
King called the state laws "deeply problematic," and said they send a bad message to young people who may be coming to terms with their gender identity or sexual orientation.
President Barack Obama called for the laws to be overturned in April.
King's comments urging states to repeal the laws earned a round of applause from Monday's crowd, which consisted of journalists, policy advocates, researchers and college officials.