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Group of parents against transgender directive ask for action from state leaders

SALT LAKE CITY — A small group of parents gathered at the state Capitol prior to the special legislative session Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to act against the directive from President Barack Obama's administration telling schools to allow transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

The group of about 10 people said they see it largely as a problem of federal overreach, and that states and schools should decide for themselves how to handle issues of gender identity among students.

"We strongly encourage the governor to exercise our 10th Amendment rights as a state and say 'no' to the Obama administration, even if it means the cutting of federal funds," said Don Guymon, chairman of Utah Grass Roots. "These types of decisions should be made at the local level, made by local school boards with parental input."

More than $480 million of Utah's $4.3 billion education fund this year is made up of federal funding. It's not yet clear what the full implications are for states that do or don't comply with the directive, which is not legally binding.

Lawmakers on Tuesday commissioned an interim study to look at the impact of transgender issues outlined in the directive on Utah schools and students.

Gov. Gary Herbert has also voiced opposition to the "Dear Colleague" letter issued by the U.S. departments of education and justice, stating that "if we have to fight this order, we will not hesitate to do so."

The Utah State Board of Education has not given specific guidance for schools since the directive was released Friday, but education leadership has said the board "does not necessarily expect a change in current practices or behavior."

Still, some parents are troubled by the instruction from Washington, D.C., calling on state leaders to overcome the "addiction" to federal funding.

"We think what the president has done is unconstitutional, and we as parents are very upset and frustrated," said Stephen Graham, a parent representing a conservative activist group called Standard of Liberty. "He's stepped into territory that doesn't belong to him. The federal government has no business being in our bathrooms."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MorganEJacobsen