Groundbreaking 7th Circuit ruling in favor of transgender student seeking access to correct bathroomBreaking News, Section 4A, Top Highlights Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
CHICAGO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for 7th Circuit in Chicago ruled today that a transgender high school student in Wisconsin has both a constitutional and statutory right to use the bathroom that aligns with his gender identity.
The ruling is the first of its kind and could lead the way to protecting all trans students from school based discrimination.
The court described the ordeal of Ashton “Ash” Whitaker, the teen at the center of the case, as that of “a 17-year‐old high school senior who has what would seem like a simple request: to use the boys’ restroom while at school,” reported The Huffington Post.
In this landmark decision, the unanimous three-judge panel held that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court agreed with the lower court’s conclusions that Ash was harmed significantly by the Kenosha Unified School District’s discriminatory practices that singled him out from other students and that KUSD failed to provide more than “sheer conjecture” that permitting Ash to use the boys’ restrooms would harm anyone. The court wrote:
“The School District has failed to provide any evidence of how the preliminary injunction will harm it, or any of its students or parents. . . . , whereas the harms to Ash are well-documented and supported by the record.” The court further described the school district’s actions as “arbitrary” and in violation of Ash’s Constitutional rights.
“I am thrilled that the Seventh Circuit recognized my right to be treated as the boy that I am at school,” said Ash. “After facing daily humiliation at school last year from being threatened with discipline and being constantly monitored by school staff just to use the bathroom, the district court’s injunction in September allowed me to be a typical senior in high school and to focus on my classes, after-school activities, applying to college, and building lasting friendships.
“As I look forward to college next year, I hope my case will help other transgender students in Kenosha and elsewhere to just be treated the same as everyone else without facing discrimination and harassment from school administrators.”
The court found that the school district presented no evidence that Ash’s restroom use affected any other students. The court noted that the school district’s failure to submit such evidence was consistent with the amicus brief submitted by school administrators from across the country, who together “are responsible for educating approximately 1.4 million students.” Those school administrators “uniformly agree that the frequently-raised and hypothetical concerns about a policy that permits a student to utilize a bathroom consistent with his or her gender identity have simply not materialized. Rather, in their combined experience, all students’ needs are best served when students are treated equally.”
“We’re grateful that the court recognized that discrimination against transgender students is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can cause serious, but avoidable harms, to students like Ash,” said attorney Joseph Wardenski of Relman, Dane & Colfax, who argued the case in the Seventh Circuit. “It has been a privilege to represent this courageous young man as he stands up for his rights and the rights of other transgender students. The Seventh Circuit’s ruling today will not only help Ash, but will send a message to all schools that transgender students are entitled to equal treatment under the law.”
“This is a great victory for transgender students,” said Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center’s executive director. “The battleground may be bathrooms, but the real issue is fairness and transgender people’s ability to go to school, to work, and simply to exist in public spaces. This win makes that more possible for more people.”
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