Federal court rejects attempt to kick trans students out of school bathrooms

Their "mere presence" did not violate anyone's rights.

Aiden DeStefano and his mom Melissa. CREDIT: Handout
Aiden DeStefano and his mom Melissa. CREDIT: Handout

A federal court in Pennsylvania has handed transgender students at Boyertown Area School District a victory after four anonymous families filed a lawsuit trying to have them removed from the school’s bathrooms and locker rooms. It’s the latest loss for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group that has fought against trans students’ rights in courts across the country.

Last year, Boyertown Area Senior High School (BASH) implemented a new policy to allow transgender students to use facilities that match their identities. After several cisgender students objected to having to share the facilities with these trans students, their families sued the school, claiming the trans-inclusive policy violated their rights. In a decision handed down Friday, District Judge Edward G. Smith, an Obama appointee, rejected the families’ request for a preliminary injunction, indicating that no violation had occurred.

“Plaintiffs are opposed to the mere presence of transgender students in locker rooms or bathrooms with them because they designate them as members of the opposite sex,” Smith wrote. But after a thorough analysis of the students’ experiences, he concluded that this did not create a hostile environment or violate their privacy. In particular, BASH administrators had told the students that if they were uncomfortable sharing facilities with transgender students, they could opt to use other isolated facilities. Instead, the families were insisting it was the trans students who should be forced into isolation.

Indeed, ADF attempted to paint its plaintiffs as victims, co-opting some of the same arguments trans students use when they fight for inclusion. For example, when student “Jack Jones” realized he was changing in a locker room next to a transgender student, he then “experienced immediate confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of dignity.” The students indicated that they now opt to hold their bladder during the school day to try to avoid the stress of running into a trans student in the facilities, causing them “an ever-present distraction.”

Smith was unconvinced that these concerns warranted a legal remedy, noting that the students’ objections were more about who the trans students were than anything that happened in locker rooms or other facilities:

The plaintiffs are clearly opposed to having themselves viewed by a transgender student in a state of undress or potentially viewing a transgender student in a state of undress. They are apparently opposed to the transgender student being in the locker room even if no one is getting dressed or undressed. They are opposed to transgender girls being in the girls’ bathroom and locker room to the extent that female students are tending to menstruation-related issues and do not want those issues known to boys, even boys identifying as girls.

But ADF presented no court case determining that the presence of trans students “constitutes severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive conduct that would state a cause of action under Title IX.” There is also no evidence that trans students “invaded their seclusion” or that the school “is coercing the students to give up their constitutional right to privacy by providing them with additional facilities if they are uncomfortable in the locker room for any reason, including because of the presence of transgender students.”

Though the four families who filed the complaint stayed anonymous, one of the trans students at the school fought back publicly. Aidan DeStafano, who just graduated from BASH, had intervened in the lawsuit to fight back against ADF. He shared his story with the court, imploring that trans students like him “need to have a safe school.” One of the district’s lawyers asked him during his testimony if he’d used the men’s room at the courthouse. “I did,” he replied. “Three times.” His mom, Melissa DeStefano, has likewise been a vocal defender of the district and its trans students.

This ruling on the preliminary injunction does not end the case, but it does indicate that the odds are not in ADF’s favor of winning. The organization indicated Friday that it may appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.