The US federal government has issued a controversial new guideline advising employers to allow their transgender employees access to bathrooms that match the gender with which they identify themselves.
The four-page "Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers" was issued by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the request of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
OSHA said the new guidance was based on the principle that employees should be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live their everyday lives based on their chosen gender.
"Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety," the guidance says. "Bathroom restrictions can result in employees avoiding using restrooms entirely while at work, which can lead to potentially serious physical injury or illness."
The guidance further states that "regardless of the physical layout of a worksite, all employers need to find solutions that are safe and convenient and respect transgender employees."
The federal labor agency came out with the guidance less after the White House recently designated an official gender-neutral restroom for visitors and staffers on the basis of the need to "protect the rights of members of the LGBT community."
"An all-gender restroom is also available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which provides guests and staff an additional option," said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, according to a report in Politico.
"The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, which is in keeping with the administration's existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors," Tiller said.
In October 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the hiring of employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
On Monday, Obama once again underscored the need for a fair treatment of the LGBT community, saying that "our journey is not complete until our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
Earlier in May, a school district in Virginia said it plans to add "gender identity" to its non-discrimination policy, which would allow boys who identify as girls to use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their choice and to join athletic teams of their own preference.
Despite negative reactions from parents and the local community to the new school policy, Fairfax County Public School district officials said they had to make the change to comply with federal government instructions. Otherwise, the US Department of Education could withdraw federal funding, the officials added.
This has alarmed the Washington, D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition which has launched a campaign to fight the proposed change. The group urged all Americans to pay close attention to what is happening in Fairfax County.
"This should be a concern to everybody," Andrea Lafferty, the president coalition, said.
"The Obama administration thinks they can do whatever they darn well please. The Constitution doesn't matter. The rights of parents don't matter. God Almighty doesn't matter to this administration," she said.