The U.S. Department of the Interior confirmed this week that it allows visitors to America's national parks to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, according to The Daily Signal, a media outlet owned and operated by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"As it relates to recently passed state laws relating to the transgender community, visitors to public lands and water sites are welcome to use restrooms that best align with their gender identity," a government spokesperson reportedly told the outlet.
The statement went on to note that individuals of all origins, religions, sexes, races, sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome to visit public lands, with the agency trumpeting the importance of diversity.
"We remain committed to appropriately representing our nation’s diversity on our public lands, and continue to work alongside local communities and leaders to find meaningful ways to preserve and tell the stories that reflect the narrative of all Americans," the spokesperson continued.
Officials said that this policy is nothing new, as Jeremy K. Barnum, a spokesman with the National Park Service — a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior — told the Daily Signal.
"People have always been able to choose the public restroom within the national park system that aligns with their gender identity," he said, affirming that there has never been a blanket rule banning bathroom usage based on gender identity.
The Daily Signal's report comes as debates over the use of transgender bathrooms and locker rooms erupt across the U.S. Most recently, 11 states came together to sue the Obama administration over a transgender bathroom directive that was sent to public schools across the country.
As previously reported, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Louisiana, Arizona and Georgia are seeking clarification on rules that told schools to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. Mississippi and Kentucky are also said to be considering joining in on the litigation.
Just weeks earlier, the U.S. Justice Department sued North Carolina over a transgender bathroom law that requires people to use bathrooms that correspond with their biological gender.
Other associated cultural changes are also afoot.
Consider that the U.S. government designated New York City's Stonewall Inn a national historic landmark on June 24, with President Barack Obama praising the location where the modern gay rights movement began back in 1969.
As The Associated Press noted, Obama said that the nation's first monument to the gay rights movement will "tell the story of our struggle for LGBT rights." That's a message that is also being heralded on the National Park Service's website.
"Before the 1960s, almost everything about living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person was illegal. New York City laws against homosexual activities were particularly harsh," a National Park Service description reads. "The Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, is a milestone in the quest for LGBT civil rights and provided momentum for a movement."
And in a press release published on the White House website that announced the decision to appoint Stonewall a historic site, the Obama administration highlighted its ongoing quest to protect transgender Americans, saying that the current government has "taken unprecedented steps to protect and promote the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming Americans."
The release goes on to mention the controversial guidance from the Justice Department and the Department of Education to U.S. public schools, as well as Department of Justice guidelines that ban sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"Additionally, agencies, including OPM, the State Department, SSA and HHS, took various actions to ensure that transgender Americans were treated fairly and without discrimination in the workplace, in official documents and in the health care system," the White House said.
Many conservative religious leaders have voiced concerns over allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms affiliated with their gender identity and not their biological sex.
Speaking specifically against Target's department store policy allowing just that, Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote on his Facebook page that such a policy "encourages sexual predators and puts women and children in danger."
Graham continued, "A man shouldn't be able to enter the women's restroom or dressing room because he says he 'feels like a woman today.'"
Pastor Perry Noble of Newspring Church in South Carolina also recently spoke on the safety issue as well, saying that he wouldn't let a man enter a bathroom if his wife or daughter were inside.
"Why? Because I hate a certain group of people? No way! Because I want people to feel discriminated against and shamed? Nope!" he wrote. "It simply comes down to the safety of my wife and daughter. And, it would be insanity to think that there are men out there who would not abuse this."
Others have taken more reflective and less definitive approaches to the issue, such as Pastor Mark Wingfield of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, who recently penned an op-ed analyzing the complex debate.
Wingfield wrote that most transgender individuals hate drawing attention to themselves and said that the bathroom debate does just that, saying that it is "highly disconcerting to people who have spent their lives trying not to stand out or become the center of attention."
There continues to be a great deal of discussion among the faithful.