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Trans students are winning legal battles across America

Cases in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have all ended in wins for trans students.

by Tess Owen
Aug 10 2017, 12:29pm

When three transgender teenagers who recently graduated from Pine-Richland High School in Pennsylvania won the ability to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity earlier this month, they left a legacy that will impact the daily lives of students like them for years to come.

The students’ victory included added protections for trans students at their school and a settlement of $20,000 each, issued Tuesday. It’s just the latest example of wins for transgender students against school boards across the country — despite the Trump administration dismantling Obama-era policies that protected them.

Just this week, a charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota, also agreed to change its nondiscrimination policy to accommodate transgender students, after parents of a 5-year-old girl sued them for failing to teach other students that it’s unacceptable to bully someone over their gender identity. And late last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill safeguarding trans students’ rights in schools statewide.

Even earlier in May, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that a 17-year-old trans student from Wisconsin should be permitted to use the boys bathroom, consistent with his gender identity. In addition to providing some relief for the boy and his family, the case was the first time a federal court ruled that Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in federally funded schools, protects trans students.

The students in the Pennsylvania case settled earlier this month included Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho, who sang at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The students were awarded $20,000 each, as well as more than $70,000 to cover their legal fees. The Pine-Richland School District also agreed to cough up $135,000 as part of the settlement.

But while some cases have ended in victories, others created setbacks. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court was set to hear its first case involving trans rights this March: the struggle of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia trans teenager, who wanted to use the bathroom that corresponded to his gender identity. When the Trump Administration reversed that guidance, the high court dropped the case, sending it back to a lower court. This year, fourteen states introduced also legislation designed to curb transgender rights at school, although none were successful.

But other cases are still ongoing. In a different Pennsylvania school district, non-trans students and their parents are pushing back on their schools’ policies that accommodate transgender kids — backed by legal heavyweights from the religious right, like the Alliance Defending Freedom.

And on Thursday, a federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, considered whether to block a school district’s policy relegating trans kids to segregated bathrooms or bathrooms that correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth. The case was brought by Drew, a 16-year-old trans high schooler, who used the boys bathroom without issue for years until another student anonymously complained.

“It’s not about which bathroom you use,” said Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ legal powerhouse that represented the teens in Pennsylvania and now backs Drew in his fight. “The point is that these schools and unfortunately the Department of Education and Department of Justice is making policy that says, ‘You’re not welcome.’ It’s to tell trans and queer kids, ‘We don’t want you, we don’t want to see you, we wish you weren’t here, and if we’re mean enough, you might go away.”

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