Transgender Students Sue Schools Over Bathrooms and Pronouns - Pacific Standard

Transgender Students Sue Schools Over Bathrooms and Pronouns

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The suits cover issues that thousands of LGBT middle and high schoolers have identified as the most urgent for them.

By Francie Diep

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Signs are posted outside the Santee High School’s gender-neutral restrooms in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Two transgender high school students, in Maryland and Wisconsin, have sued their schools for not allowing them to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, the Washington Post reports. The suits come just months after the Departments of Justice and Education posted a letter to schools, directing them to allow transgender students to use their preferred bathrooms and locker rooms and to call students by their preferred names and pronouns. Schools risk losing federal funding if they don’t comply.

As Pacific Standard reported in May, these federal rules address the issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids have identified in surveys as the most troubling for them in school. For example, more than one in three respondents to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s 2013 survey of LGBT middle and high schoolers said they avoided school bathrooms and locker rooms because they felt “unsafe or uncomfortable.”

Removing such stigmatic policies might help kids’ educational careers.

Complaints from one of the student plaintiffs, 16-year-old Ash Whitaker of Wisconsin, exemplify several trends identified in the GLSEN survey. Whitaker accuses staffers at Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 of referring to him using feminine pronouns and his birth name. The GLSEN survey found 42 percent of transgender students have been prevented from using their preferred names at school.*

According to the Washington Post, Whitaker’s lawsuit alleges “the district has instructed school staffers to issue bright green wristbands to Ash and other transgender students.”In the GLSEN survey, such a public identification of LGBT students is rare, but not unprecedented: The survey reported that some schools had notified parents of students’ LGBT identities without those students’ permission.

Removing such stigmatic policies might help kids’ educational careers. Among the GLSEN respondents who said they planned to drop out of high school, the most common reason was because they found their school hostile or unsupportive.

If staffers at Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 really are defying the federal government’s letter, they wouldn’t be the only ones. Wisconsin is among 11 states that have sued the government over the letter, claiming the Obama administration has “conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”

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*Update — July 20, 2016: The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s 2013 survey found that 42 percent of transgender students have been prevented from using their preferred names at school.

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