Wisconsin Lawmakers Have A Plan To Let People Sue Schools That Respect Transgender Students

CREDIT: Shutterstock/warin keawchookul

Two Wisconsin state lawmakers, Rep. Jesse Kremer (R) and Sen. Stephen Nass (R), have introduced legislation that would prohibit schools from accommodating transgender students who wish to use restroom and changing room facilities that match their gender. It would also empower anyone who notices a school respecting a transgender student as such to file a complaint and win damages against that school.

In a memo to fellow lawmakers distributed last week, Kremer and Nass insisted that “in response to recent incidents around the state” that they do not identify, “no student of any gender should be made to feel uncomfortable or threatened in the most private places in our schools.”

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Kremer said that female students shouldn’t have to worry if the person walking into the bathroom behind them is transgender or just someone who is “up to no good.”

The actual language of the bill defines “sex” as being “determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual’s anatomy,” erasing how students actually experience their gender. All school restroom and changing rooms must be designated “for the exclusive use of pupils of only one sex.” To make it perfectly clear, the bill specifies that “no member of the female sex” may use a facilities designated “for the exclusive use of the male sex,” and vice versa.

Though Kremer and Nass claim that the policy “will ensure that all students will be afforded the dignity and security they are entitled to in our public school bathrooms and locker room,” their unwillingness to accommodate transgender students suggests otherwise. The bill says that the only option for them is to use a “single-occupancy restroom” or “the regulated use of a faculty restroom.” Thus, they either must risk their security to use the restroom that doesn’t match their gender or be segregated away to separate facilities.

And if schools don’t abide by the discriminatory policy, they can be punished. Any student or parent can file a complaint objecting to a violation, which requires the school district to “investigate and attempt to resolve the complaint.” If that complaint “is not resolved to the satisfaction of the pupil or the pupil’s parent or guardian,” they are entitled declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages, including the reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees.

As the Department of Education continues to argue in cases of discrimination against transgender students, such treatment violates the sex nondiscrimination protections found under Title IX. Thus, Nass and Kremer would be demanding that Wisconsin schools choose between violating state law and violating federal law.

Since 2013, at least four transgender people have committed suicide in Wisconsin — two of whom went to the same high school in Racine. Just last month, a trans teen at Madison West High School similarly died by suicide after struggling with depression.