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Governor Herbert defends joining lawsuit over transgender bathroom access

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Posted at 5:21 PM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 09:49:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Governor Gary Herbert defended the decision to join a lawsuit over President Obama's order to schools to provide bathroom access to transgender students.

In remarks Thursday, the governor said he was sensitive to the issues facing transgender children, but it was a case of "federal overreach."

"We ought to all be sensitive about it for all our children that need to have dignity, privacy, respect, safety," the governor told FOX 13. "It's best handled at the local level."

Gov. Herbert said he was not ordering schools to refuse to comply with the president's directive, but would leave that up to the Utah State School Board. The school board has sent an email to school districts and charter schools essentially telling them to keep doing what they were already doing.

The governor's election challengers reacted to the lawsuit, split on the decision.

"This is the right decision and the same action I would pursue as Governor. I appreciate the leadership of these 11 Republican governors and for Gov. Abbott leading the charge," said Republican challenger Jonathan Johnson.

Democratic challenger Mike Weinholtz called it a "frivolous" lawsuit and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"Transgender children deserve protection from discrimination and bullying. No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome, unsafe or discriminated against," he said in a statement.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit, but his office told FOX 13 that state taxpayer dollars were not being spent on the lawsuit because the state was joining what was already being filed by Texas.

Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, a group that seeks to advance trans rights in the state, said it would like to meet with the governor and attorney general to talk about the lawsuit.

"We are always interested in helping people like Governor Herbert or Attorney General Reyes understand the perspective of their transgender constituents. It is our hope that through our education work, we can help clear up the many misconceptions that are out there about people within the trans community," the group said in a statement. "We believe that dialogue and a desire for understanding could go a long way toward resolving many of the questions about how best to provide a healthy environment for transgender students, and TEA of Utah has a great interest in participating in that dialogue, whether with elected officials, or with individuals closer to the situation."

Gov. Herbert said he believed local school districts knew how best to handle situations involving transgender students.

"Bullying goes on and we ought not to tolerate any kind of bullying. This is just one form. Again, I trust the principals and local school districts to get this right," he said. "We don't need a one size fits all approach out of Washington, D.C."