BOSTON — Laws in North Carolina and Mississippi that restrict the rights of transgender Americans are hateful and should be repealed, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said Monday.
Asked about the laws at the Education Writers Association national conference in Boston, King called them hateful and said gender identity should be protected.
He said the laws send a problematic message to students and he is calling on state legislatures to repeal them.
"My hope is legislators will realize they've made a terrible mistake," he said.
The North Carolina law requires transgender people to use bathrooms in state government buildings and public schools and universities that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates. It also established statewide anti-discrimination protections that exclude LGBT people, and it bans communities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that go further.
Last month, President Barack Obama called for the law to be overturned.
Transgender advocates and the Obama administration have argued federal anti-discrimination law requires that transgender students be able to use the restroom and locker room that correspond with their gender identity.
A federal appeals court ruled last month in a Virginia case that a high school discriminated against a transgender teen by forbidding him from using the boys' restroom. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lower court for trial rather than issuing a definitive decision.
In a court filing in that case, the U.S. Education Department and the Justice Department argued that preventing students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity violates Title IX of federal law.
"Treating a student differently from other students because his birth-assigned sex diverges from his gender identity constitutes differential treatment on the basis of sex under Title IX," the departments said in a friend-of-the-court brief.
The Mississippi law allows religious groups and some private businesses to deny services to same-sex couples and transgender people. It takes effect July 1. Any employer or school could refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.
Bathrooms have been a focal point as schools around the country grapple with how to balance the rights of transgender students with privacy issues.
Students at Santee Education Complex worked to establish the first multi-stall, gender-neutral restroom at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest. Adults protested the move.
In Ocala, Fla., the Marion County School Board voted to limit restrooms to students based on their birth sex.