The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin violated the rights of a transgender student, Ashton Whitaker, when it refused to let him use the boys’ bathroom. The decision is the first instance of a federal appellate court ruling that transgender students are protected under laws that ban discrimination in education.
In the decision, a three-judge panel concluded that the school district “failed to provide any evidence” that letting Whitaker have access to the boys’ bathroom harms any students.
Prior to the lawsuit, the school district said Whitaker would have to use the girls’ bathrooms or a gender-neutral facility in the school’s main office. Whitaker would be the only student allowed access to that bathroom.
Whitaker argued that arrangement drew uncomfortable attention to his transgender status. To avoid that situation, he began limiting his water consumption to the point of fainting from dehydration, according to court filings. Whitaker testified that he even contemplated suicide.
The ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia teen whom a lower court ruled had the right to use the boys’ room at his school. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court ruling after the Trump administration rescinded the prior administration’s affirmative guidelines to schools on transgender students. The lower court’s decision had relied in part on that guidance. The Seventh Circuit Court handed down its ruling in Whitaker’s favor without relying on the guidelines.
“It’s nice knowing this will definitely be a beacon for other trans kids and other members of the community to look to as a source for hope,” said Whitaker.
Reuters, May 30
Huffington Post, May 31