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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 41
Lambda Legal sues Pennsylvania school district for anti-Trans discrimination
Section One
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Lambda Legal sues Pennsylvania school district for anti-Trans discrimination

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on October 6 charging the Pine-Richland School District in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with discriminating against Transgender students.

The school district, Lambda Legal said, recently changed its restroom policies and now bars Trans students from using restrooms appropriate for their gender identities.

'After years of allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that match their identity, last month the school board for the Pine-Richland School District caved to outside pressure and unfounded fears. By voting to reverse the district's longstanding inclusive restroom practice and to restrict the rights of transgender students, the school board has violated federal law and imposed harm upon Pine-Richland's transgender students,' Lambda Legal staff attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said.

'Forcing transgender students to use separate restrooms - after they had been using the appropriate facilities for years without incident - is not just unnecessary; it also harms and stigmatizes them. The Pine-Richland school board should be watching out for the safety and well-being of all its students, but through their discriminatory actions, they have failed Pine-Richland's transgender students. No transgender student, anywhere, should be treated like a second-class person.'

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pine-Richland High School seniors Juliet Evancho and Elissa Ridenour, and a minor identified only by the initials AS.

In the complaint, Lambda Legal argues that Pine-Richland's newly-adopted discriminatory restroom policy sends a purposeful message that Transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded to other students.

'I was shocked and appalled when I learned about the vote to adopt the new restroom policy. For years, I have used the girls' restroom without incident,' said Ridenour.

'Now, I feel constantly under surveillance. I'm a girl. But I'm expected to use the boys' room? Or to use some 'separate' bathroom that no one else has to use? How is that fair?'

'The day after the vote, it felt different in school: I felt exposed and vulnerable,' Evancho added.

'I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home. But then my classmates nominated me for homecoming queen, showing that they know, accept, and respect me for who I am. So, why can't everyone else? Why make an issue where there isn't one?'

The Lambda Legal complaint argues that the school district's new policy is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, by discriminating on the basis of sex and gender identity. The policy also violates Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

'The District's previous policy of fostering a safe environment for all its students, with a trans-inclusive restroom practice, worked well for years,' Gonzalez-Pagan said. 'Transgender students already face so many challenges - they shouldn't have to be disrespected and degraded while at school, too.'

The school district's policy was changed in September after months of controversy. According to Lambda Legal, anti-LGBT groups and individuals organized to overturn the district's longstanding inclusive restroom practice.

In March, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the district on behalf of several Pine-Richland Transgender students, urging district officials and the school board to reject the misinformation and to continue treating transgender students equally. Since then, Lambda Legal attorneys sent additional letters and have been present at several school board meetings, but to no avail.

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