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Mississippi governor to join suit against Obama transgender policy

(Reuters) - Mississippi’s Republican governor said on Thursday he planned to join a lawsuit by officials from 11 states to overturn an Obama administration directive that tells schools to let transgender students use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

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The lawsuit led by Texas, the most significant legal challenge to this month’s directive, said the federal government and Obama administration officials overreached their authority by taking actions that should be left to Congress or individual states.

“Our office has talked to the Texas attorney general’s office and I intend, as soon as possible, to join the lawsuit against this latest example of federal overreach,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said in a statement.

As with some of the other states, Mississippi’s governor and attorney general disagree on the suit, which challenges the administration’s interpretation that federal civil rights laws against sex discrimination should apply to transgender people.

Mississippi’s attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, declined to participate in the lawsuit, according to Clay Chandler, a spokesman for the governor. Chandler said Bryant will work with an attorney in the governor’s office in joining the lawsuit.

Hood’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amid a national debate on transgender rights, President Barack Obama’s administration on May 13 told U.S. public schools that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, upsetting Republicans and paving the way for fights over federal funding and legal authority.

Texas was joined by Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus Arizona’s Department of Education and Maine’s governor.

The lawsuit said the administration “conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”

Transgender rights advocates criticized the suit as a malicious attack, saying there have never been public safety incidents or invasions of privacy related to protections for transgender people.

“While the department will review the complaint, the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans,” the Justice Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

Reporting by Letitia Stein; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Will Dunham