Trans student wins two battles against school district’s oppressive actions
by Rob Howard
A Wisconsin transgender teen boy won his second court battle in as many days on Tuesday. Ashton Whitaker will be able to use bathrooms consistent with his gender identity while his discrimination lawsuit against the school district winds its way through the courts.
According to the Associate Press, US District Judge Pamela Pepper “issued a temporary injunction barring the district from enforcing its policy prohibiting Whitaker from using the boys' bathroom while his lawsuit progresses through the courts. On Monday, Pepper rejected a motion by the school district to dismiss the case.
"’There's no question that Ash has already suffered harm and has had physical repercussions from the policy as well as emotional repercussions,’ said Pepper, who challenged the district's argument that its local school board should determine its own policies.”
The Transgender Law Center and Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, a civil rights firm based in Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in July on behalf of Whitaker. The Law Center’s press release in July said that Whitaker, “has 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. Named as defendants are Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Board of Education and Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis.”
The Law Center quoted Ash Whitaker then as saying, “’My peers and many of my teachers know me as a boy, and have been incredibly supportive,’ said Ash. ‘But the school administrators have made my life miserable every school day since this spring, when they told me I could no longer use the boys’ restrooms, which I’d been using with the support of my classmates for months. I worry about how I’m going to navigate the demands of senior year if I can’t even go to the bathroom without worrying that I’m being watched.’”
The Law Center’s press release yesterday hailed the judge’s ruling, saying, “A federal court today ruled that a Wisconsin school must immediately halt its discriminatory policy of singling out a transgender boy, Ashton Whitaker, and forcing him to use a restroom separate from all other students. Whitaker…asked for the preliminary injunction so that he could use the restroom during his senior year of high school as the court heard arguments in his case challenging KUSD’s discriminatory treatment of him.”
Whitaker is quoted in the press release as saying, “’For the first time this year, I feel like I can actually make it through my senior year of high school just like any other boy in my class,’ said 17-year-old Ash Whitaker. ‘It’s awful going to school every day with the constant stress and stigma from being segregated from my peers and from administrators watching my every move just because of who I am. I’m so relieved I’ll be able to just go to class, apply to college, and graduate without worrying if I’ll get in trouble for using the restroom.’”
The AP reported that the school district will appeal Judge Pepper’s ruling. “The school district's attorney, Ronald Stadler, says it will appeal both of Pepper's rulings. He took issue with the plaintiffs' suggestion that a student has a ‘unilateral right to declare one's sex.’
"’There is simply no support in the law for that proposition,’ he said.”
Attorneys for Whitaker gave details about the school’s actions against Whitaker, saying, “The complaint in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Board of Education alleges that KUSD’s policy of denying Ash access to the boys’ restrooms and other discriminatory actions—including school administrators’ insistence on using Ash’s birth name and female pronouns, the school’s repeated isolation of Ash from his peers on overnight school trips, and a proposed policy to require transgender students to wear green wristbands or stickers—violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
His attorneys expressed confidence that the school district’s appeal would not be successful. “’We expect that the Seventh Circuit will affirm the lower court’s decision and follow the lead of the majority of courts that have made clear that Title IX and the Constitution protect transgender students from being segregated from and treated differently than their peers,’ stated Joseph Wardenski, an attorney at Relman, Dane & Colfax.”
Students facing harassment or discrimination can reach out to Transgender Law Center for support through the legal information helpline at www.transgenderlawcenter.org/help.
Copyright 2016 The Gayly – September 21, 2016 @ 11:55 a.m.