Two federal lawsuits, one from a transgender boy in Wisconsin and another from a transgender boy in Maryland, assert that schools are discriminating against trans students by making them use unisex bathrooms and locker rooms.
The lawsuits both describe the school administration’s decision to give trans students the option of either a unisex or girls bathroom or locker room as stigmatizing and humiliating. The Talbot County, Maryland student, called M.A.B. in the lawsuit, is interested in joining the school soccer team but said the lack of locker room access makes it difficult to participate or bond with other boys. The single-occupancy bathroom is also far from his classes, forcing him to wait longer to use the bathroom than other students and has made him late to physical education class. The Kenosha, Wisconsin student, Ash Whitaker, who, due to medical issues, has to drink a lot of water, tried to stop going to the bathroom at school, endangering his health.
The Wisconsin lawsuit notes other problems with how the school treated Whitaker. He was repeatedly called by his birth name and referred to with female pronouns by school staff, wasn’t allowed to run for prom king (until the school received a petition and media scrutiny), and wasn’t allowed to lodge with boys during school trips. The district also requires staff to make Whitaker and other transgender students wear green bracelets identifying them as transgender to staff — which caused Whitaker to worry about stigmatization and harassment, according to his lawyers. The school eventually instructed security guards to ensure Whitaker didn’t use the boys restroom.
This March, Whitaker was told he would need to get medical documentation to use the boys bathroom. His mother contacted his pediatrician, who sent the school a letter recommending he be allowed to use the boys bathroom, but to no avail. School staff wanted official documentation of a medical transition.
Feds Instruct Nation’s Schools To Respect Transgender StudentsLGBT by CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh After the Department of Justice (DOJ) warned North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R…thinkprogress.orgThis year, a spate of legislation was introduced in several states that would require trans students to use bathrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates. In some cases, lawmakers suggested students should be examined before using the bathroom or locker room. Some school districts and institutions of higher education have suggested students use unisex bathrooms, but trans students have pointed out that these bathrooms can be inconvenient or stigmatizing, as the boys’ lawyers wrote in their lawsuits.
In response, the Obama administration made a clear statement in May affirming that trans students have the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender. And an April decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a school’s decision to restrict a trans boy from using the boys bathroom was a violation of Title IX.
That doesn’t mean schools have immediately absorbed the message, however. For example, in May, not long after the Justice Department advised North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) not to implement HB2, a law requiring students to use the bathrooms aligned with the gender recorded on their birth certificate, one North Carolina school board member said that the school board let students carry pepper spray in case the law didn’t go into effect.
“Depending on how the courts rule on the bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on the female students if they go to the bathroom, not knowing who may come in,” the school board member, Chuck Hughes, said. Hughes later told BuzzFeed News he changed his mind on allowing pepper spray and insisted his comments were not related to LGBT people.
A University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee student, Justine Kramer, who is a nonbinary trans woman, also dealt with resistance to allowing her to use the bathroom best corresponding to her gender. In January, she was kicked out of the women’s locker room and asked to “verify” her gender. After she filed a Title IX complaint, the university introduced a new policy, but it still didn’t allow her to change in the locker room, which forced her to use the family locker room, which was inconvenient and didn’t have access to the pool or sauna. The university has since introduced a new policy.
Wisconsin is one of the states suing the federal government over this directive that states allow trans students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender.