Houston-area public schools have been quietly accommodating the bathroom preferences of transgender students for years, but a directive Friday threatening federal funding for school districts that don’t sparked fierce criticism from state political leaders and worried some local parents.

Charlie Beckler, who graduated high school in 2011, recalled the struggle to fit in at public school in The Woodlands, Texas. Classmates mocked the student, who then went by Charlette, and told the teenager to go to hell.

Beckler said the new rules are important because “when things are supportive on the federal level, it does trickle down eventually.”

Despite backlash from state leaders, many of the region’s largest school districts said they would continue to work with transgender students on a case-by-case basis.

“We know how polarizing this is in our nation,” said Nancy Porter, spokeswoman for the Fort Bend Independent School District. “That’s why we’re trying to handle this with sensitivity for the best interest of all students.”

The district had offered sensitivity training to administrators last summer and has a policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender.

Sarah Wood, a spokeswoman for the district where Beckler attended school, said the district makes “every effort to work with students and their families to meet the needs of each child.”

Houston Chronicle