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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 3, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 09
Federal judge rules for Trans students in bathroom case
Section One
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Federal judge rules for Trans students in bathroom case

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal judge in Pittsburgh ruled on February 27 that three Transgender students have a constitutional right to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

US District Judge Mark Hornak issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Pine-Richland School District to allow the three Trans plaintiffs to use gender-appropriate facilities, because he believed they were likely to win the case on its merits when it comes to trial.

The judge's decision comes less than a week after the Trump administration reversed President Obama's guidelines protecting Trans students.

Significantly, Hornak's ruling does not depend on Title IX, the federal law Obama used to order schools to accommodate Trans students, but instead it relies on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This reasoning is important because it means that Trans students have a positive right to gender-appropriate restrooms regardless of how the Trump administration reads Title IX.

Ironically, the Pine-Richland School District had not discriminated against Trans students until the passage of a local school board measure, Resolution 2, last September.

'[T]he Plaintiffs have shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the District's enforcement of Resolution 2 as to their use of common school restrooms does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth Amendment,' Judge Hornak wrote in his decision.

The judge brusquely dismissed the school board's contention that Trans students had to be excluded from restrooms to protect cisgender students.

'The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day - go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers...

'Other than perhaps one report received by the high school principal in October 2015 from a student that 'there was a boy' in the girls' bathroom ... followed by a parent inquiry along the same lines in early 2016, there have been no reports of 'incidents' where the use of a common restroom by any one of the plaintiffs has caused any sort of alarm to any other student,' the judge wrote.

There also is no evidence any of the three has done anything to invade anyone's 'physical or visual privacy' at the school, Hornak added.

School board members claimed they were concerned that a student 'would in essence masquerade as being transgender,' using a restroom inconsistent with their assigned sex, but Hornak also dismissed this issue.

'This would all occur in an effort to visually examine the sex organs of other restroom users or to engage in some other blatant and malicious invasion of bodily privacy of those simply using the restrooms for their intended purposes,' the judge wrote.

He said both the girls' and boys' bathrooms at the school have locking, enclosed stalls, and the boys' bathroom also has urinals with privacy screens, making it unlikely that restroom users could spy on each other.

'This is wonderful news and a tremendous relief that we can now use the bathroom without feeling isolated and humiliated,' plaintiff Elissa Ridenour said in a statement after the discriminatory restroom ban was suspended.

'The past months have been incredibly stressful, and this was all so unnecessary. There was no problem before, and we are confident there will be no problem now.'

In addition to Ridenour, plaintiffs included Juliet Evancho - sister of Jackie Evancho, who sang at Trump's inauguration - and a boy identified only as A.S., because he is still a minor.

Lambda Legal staff attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan called the decision 'a huge win for Juliet, Elissa, and A.S.'

'Notwithstanding the Trump administration's misguided and cruel actions last week, the court today found that the school's policy barring transgender students from the restroom that matches who they are violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution,' Gonzalez-Pagan said.

'Every student must be respected for who they are and be afforded equal educational opportunity. The court recognized that policies that seek to erase a transgender student's identity do not address any real problems but rather only serve to discriminate and harm our youth. Such policies are not only wrong, they are illegal. The rescission of guidance by the Trump administration cannot change that.'

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