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NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.S. companies led by tech firms Yahoo Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp criticized the Trump administration's decision to revoke Obama administration guidance that allowed transgender public school students to use the bathroom of their choice.
Their statements evoked the opposition expressed by many businesses last year when the state of North Carolina passed a law that forces transgender people to use public restrooms matching their gender assigned at birth.
The resulting boycotts have cost North Carolina more than $560 million in economic activity, according to the online magazine Facing South.
Companies lacked the same opportunity to protest with their dollars in this instance, since the Trump administration action pertains to schools, but still signaled they stood with the Obama policy of using the federal government to expand transgender civil rights.
"It's ultimately going to come down to the business community to stop it because it's so bad for business," said Christopher Gergen, chief executive of Forward Impact, an entrepreneurial organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In unveiling the new direction on Wednesday, Trump administration officials argued that transgender policies should be an issue for the states to decide.
"The action taken by the administration is troubling and goes against all that we believe in," Yahoo said in a statement.
Social conservatives have hailed the decision by the Justice and Education departments to defer transgender bathroom policies to the states, calling it a victory for privacy and traditional values.
But companies have tried to persuade state and local governments to side with transgender people.
"We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals," Apple said in a statement.
Microsoft President Brad Smith looked to history as a guide, referencing the date that the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, when President Abraham Lincoln declared freedom for slaves.
"Since Jan. 1, 1863, the federal government has played a vital role in protecting the rights of all Americans. Let's not stop now," Smith said on Twitter.
In response to the North Carolina law, companies such as Deutsche Bank and PayPal canceled expansion plans, costing the state jobs.
By invoking states' rights, the Trump administration is potentially emboldening legislatures in other states that are considering laws similar to North Carolina's HB2. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)