Transgender Law Center takes legal action against Wisconsin school district denying transgender boy access to boys’ restrooms
Complaint filed with federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
May 12, 2016 – Transgender Law Center filed a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of a 16-year-old transgender boy who has been barred from using the boys’ restroom by the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin. Ashton Whitaker, a student at Tremper High School, had been using the boys’ restrooms without incident since the beginning of the school year, until school administrators intervened and threatened him with disciplinary action if he continued to use the boys’ restroom.
“School is no longer the safe and welcoming place that it used to be. Being banned from the boys’ bathroom is a daily reminder that school administrators see me as someone who is so different from the other students that I’m not even allowed to share a bathroom with them,” said Ashton. “I’ve basically stopped using the bathroom at school altogether, which makes it painful and difficult to get through the school day.”
As the complaint details, the school singled out Ashton from all the other boys by requiring that he use an out-of-the-way bathroom to which no other student has access. At the same time, the school has accepted Ashton as a boy in other parts of campus life, including consistently calling him by the correct name and pronouns and allowing him to run for prom king. Students at Tremper High School have rallied in support of Ashton and are urging the school district to adopt a policy allowing transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. An online petition has generated thousands of signatures in support of Ashton’s right to be treated as a boy in all aspects of his life at school.
Transgender Law Center sent the school district a letter a few weeks ago explaining their legal obligations and demanding that Ashton be permitted to resume using the boys’ restroom, or else face legal action. The district refused, and Transgender Law Center filed today’s complaint. The organization is also considering bringing a federal lawsuit against the district.
“As the United States Attorney General so movingly affirmed earlier this week, singling out transgender youth for discrimination is a violation of both our values and our laws as a country,” said Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi. “It is past time for schools to get in line with the law and treat all of their students, including transgender students like Ash, fairly and equally.”
Federal nondiscrimination laws make it clear that transgender students have the right to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, the federal agency tasked with enforcing Title IX, has long interpreted Title IX to require schools to allow transgender students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. Last month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a precedent-setting ruling in a similar case brought by Virginia student Gavin Grimm. School districts that do not comply with Title IX’s requirements risk losing their federal funding.
Students facing harassment or discrimination can reach out to Transgender Law Center for support through the legal information helpline at transgenderlawcenter.org/help.
Transgender Law Center is the largest national organization dedicated to advancing the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people through litigation, policy advocacy, and public education so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. www.transgenderlawcenter.org