5 amicus briefs urge court to protect trans youth

AshMelissa-steps

Ash (left) and his mom Melissa

(Kenosha, WI)– Individuals and organizations representing youth, parents, school administrators, and women filed five amicus briefs yesterday in support of Ash Whitaker, a transgender boy and student at Tremper High School. Ash’s school denied him access to the boys’ bathroom and illegally singled him out to require him to use a separate bathroom from all other students. Ash, represented by Transgender Law Center, the largest national transgender advocacy organization, and Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights law firm, sued his school and in September won a preliminary injunction forcing the school to halt these discriminatory policies while the case moves forward. Ash has used the boys’ restrooms at school without issue since the injunction was granted. The school district has appealed that ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which in November denied the school district’s request to put the injunction on hold pending the appeal.

“I just want to be myself and go to school like any other kid, and the harassment from my administration and the spotlight that has put me under has made that really hard,” said Ash. “It means so much to me for all of these people to speak out in support of students like me, and I hope ultimately this case will make a difference for kids across the country.”

The five amicus briefs (available here and below) feature the voices of school administrators, transgender youth and their parents, experts, advocates and others – including many individuals and organizations in Wisconsin and neighboring states – who speak to the devastating effect of discrimination on transgender youth and the importance of treating all students fairly and equally. A number of national and local organizations signed onto these briefs, including: The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, the National Women’s Law Center, GSAFE, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Indiana Youth Group, Gender Spectrum, FORGE, Indianapolis PFLAG, and GSA Network.

“What these families, educators, and organizations know is that schools are safer, more welcoming, and better for everyone when they support all students,” said Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi. “Targeting a student like Ash just because he is transgender is not only illegal, but devastating for the students who are singled out and harmful to the school climate as a whole.”

Last week, Ash’s legal team filed their appellate brief with the Seventh Circuit arguing that the court should uphold the injunction because the district court correctly found that being singled out for discrimination and surveillance caused Ash serious harm and likely violated federal law. Oral argument in the case has been set for March 29.

“The amicus briefs submitted today support the common-sense proposition that Ash Whitaker, a boy, must be treated like any other boy at school,” said Joseph Wardenski, an attorney at Relman, Dane & Colfax. “As the first-hand experiences of transgender students and educators shared in these briefs show, schools can easily implement inclusive policies that promote safe and supportive learning environments for all students.”

As Ash’s case moves forward, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in another case concerning a transgender boy, Virginia high school student Gavin Grimm, who was targeted by his school for discriminatory treatment.

Robert (Rock) Theine Pledl of McNally Peterson, S.C., based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is assisting Transgender Law Center and Relman, Dane & Colfax as local counsel in this case.

More information on Ash’s case, including photos and legal documents, can be found here: transgenderlawcenter.org/legal/youth/whitaker. Students facing harassment or discrimination can reach out to Transgender Law Center for support through the legal information helpline at transgenderlawcenter.org/legalinfo.

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Transgender Law Center is the largest national organization advancing justice for transgender and gender nonconforming people through litigation, policy advocacy, and public education. Transgender Law Center envisions a future in which all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. www.transgenderlawcenter.org

Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC is a national civil rights law firm based in Washington, DC.  The firm litigates civil rights cases in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education, and police accountability.  Our national practice includes individual and class action lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs who have suffered discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion, sex (including gender identity), disability, age, familial status, source of income, and sexual orientation.  www.relmanlaw.com

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