August 15, 2016 — Sixteen-year-old transgender high school student Ashton (Ash) Whitaker, represented by Transgender Law Center and Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, filed a motion in federal court today for a preliminary injunction ordering his school to cease its discriminatory treatment of him before he returns to school for his senior year. Ash is currently suing his school district after having been denied access to male-designated restrooms at his high school, subjected to daily surveillance, and threatened with disciplinary action if he continued using the boys’ restrooms.
“I am really anxious about returning to school this fall after the harassment and stigma I experienced last year from school administrators,” said Ash. “It felt so awful always being aware that they were watching my every move. It literally made me sick from the stress and trying not to use the bathroom at all at school. I just want to be able to go back to school and have a normal senior year with my friends knowing I won’t be targeted by the administration and forced to use a separate bathroom from everyone else.”
Ash filed suit against the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) last month. As the complaint in the lawsuit details, the school targeted Ash for discrimination, including with a proposal that all transgender students wear bright green labels in order to monitor their restroom use, school administrators’ insistence on using Ash’s birth name and female pronouns, and the school’s repeated isolation of Ash from his peers on overnight school trips. The complaint alleges that these and other discriminatory actions violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A rising senior in the top 5% of his class, Ash fears that discipline over his restroom use on his school records will make it harder to gain admission to college and that the distress he is suffering because of his school’s actions will distract him academically and prevent him from enjoying his last year of high school like every other student.
“It is heartbreaking that transgender students like Ash, who are just trying to go to school like everyone else, are being targeted for harassment and discrimination by the very people responsible for their education,” said Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi. “We hope the Court will do the right thing and take immediate action so that Ash can return to school this September without further fear and stigma.”
The preliminary injunction brief highlights the severe harms Ash will experience if the school district’s discriminatory treatment is not halted immediately. Mistreatment at the hands of the school district and administrators have already harmed his physical health, caused him serious anxiety and depression, threatened his unblemished disciplinary record and may imperil his ability to get into college The brief is accompanied by declarations from a number of experts including several school administrators from other districts that have enacted transgender-inclusive policies, describing how those policies have been implemented smoothly and without the kinds of problems that KUSD officials may fear. In fact, the declarations assert, such policies improve school climates for transgender students and their classmates.
“Ash wants one simple thing: to be treated like every other boy at school,” observed Joseph Wardenski, an attorney at Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights law firm. “School districts in Wisconsin and across the country have successfully implemented policies that give transgender students the right to be themselves. With the court’s direction, we hope the Kenosha school district will follow the lead of those districts.”
Pledl & Cohn, S.C., based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is assisting Transgender Law Center and Relman, Dane & Colfax as local counsel in this case.
Students facing harassment or discrimination can reach out to Transgender Law Center for support through the legal information helpline at www.transgenderlawcenter.org/help.
Transgender Law Center is the largest national organization dedicated to advancing justice for 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
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
Pledl & Cohn, S.C., based in downtown Milwaukee, represents clients in a wide range of disability rights, fair housing and employment law, commercial litigation, white collar criminal defense and tax disputes on the local and state level. http://pledlandcohn.com/