Wednesday will be a different day at school for 17-year-old Ashton Whitaker, because, thanks to a federal judge, he won’t have to be afraid to go to the bathroom anymore.
Reading her decision aloud from the bench, U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper ruled Tuesday that Kenosha Unified School District must immediately halt its discriminatory bathroom policy that singled out the teenage boy. The preliminary injunction will allow Ashton to have a normal senior year while the case proceeds.
“For the first time this year, I feel like I can actually make it through my senior year of high school just like any other boy in my class,” he said in a Transgender Law Center statement. “It’s awful going to school every day with the constant stress and stigma from being segregated from my peers and from administrators watching my every move just because of who I am. I’m so relieved I’ll be able to just go to class, apply to college, and graduate without worrying if I’ll get in trouble for using the restroom.” He had actually stopped using the bathroom at school altogether, which made it “painful and difficult to get through the school day.”
Ashton and his family had filed suit earlier this summer against Kenosha, objecting the school’s insistent discrimination against him. District officials insisted on referring to the boy by his female birth name and female pronouns, prohibited him rooming with other boys on school field trips, and tried to block him from running for prom king — though that last one backfired in the press.
The district was so dedicated to singling out Ashton that it had even proposed requiring him to wear bright green wristbands or stickers so that staff could easily identify him and police his bathroom usage. Kenosha had also insisted that the only way it could accommodate Ashton is if they see documentation confirming a surgical transition. The age of consent in Wisconsin is 18, meaning Ashton isn’t even old enough to consider such a procedure, which would not only sterilize him but might not even be necessary to resolve his gender dysphoria.
Pepper’s preliminary injunction was based on Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination in education on the basis of sex. The Department of Education has issued guidance to the nation’s schools that this includes respecting transgender students’ gender identity. A federal judge in Texas recently blocked the Department from enforcing that guidance, but that injunction in no way prohibits a federal judge in a different district to agree with its interpretation of the law.
Kenosha has indicated that it will appeal, so Ashton’s senior year is not in the clear. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals could stay the injunction and require him to resume enduring humiliating discrimination while the case proceeds. The Supreme Court recently made that very call in the case of Gavin Grimm, another high school senior who has been fighting Gloucester County School District in Virginia for years for the right to pee in peace.