A lawsuit filed against Anoka-Hennepin School District by a transgender student who was prevented from using the boys’ locker room was allowed to proceed Monday by an Anoka County District Court judge.
As The Minnesota Sun reported, the ACLU of Minnesota has partnered with Gender Justice in representing the student, who is referred to simply as N.H. in court proceedings.
The two organizations announced the lawsuit at a February press conference, arguing that the district’s actions violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the rights of equal protection and due process under the Minnesota State Constitution.
ACLU staff attorney David McKinney said his client joined the boys’ swim team at Coon Rapids High School and used the boys’ locker room “without any complaints and without any problems.”
“But then the school board got involved, and prohibited him from using the same boys’ locker room that he had used for months,” McKinney said. “They segregated him from his classmates, and forced him to use a changing facility that no other student had to use. This degrading treatment made him feel unwelcome and alone. The teenage boy who had been doing well academically and socially until the district intervened was now facing bullying and threats.”
He went on to explain that N.H. was hospitalized for mental health reasons and eventually had to transfer schools.
The student’s mother, called J.H., also spoke at the February press conference and said that her “son has consistently and adamantly insisted to me that he was a boy” since the age of three.
“My son was singled out because he is transgender. My son, an A-student, lost interest in being at school. I didn’t choose this battle, the school board chose us,” she added.
The school district argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed and claimed N.H. no longer had legal standing to sue the district since “he is no longer a student” at Coon Rapids High School or anywhere else in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied Monday by Anoka County Judge Jenny Walker Jasper, who said in her order that “this case raises an important public issue of statewide significance that should be decided immediately.”
“Anyone who has read the newspaper; watched the news or used social media within the last five years cannot dispute the fact that the use of bathrooms and changing facilities by transgender individuals has been hotly debated and is an important policy decision for businesses and government,” Jasper continued. “Any argument that this issue is not of public importance is disingenuous and can only be made if one completely ignores current events and, like the proverbial ostrich, has its head buried in the sand.”
She noted in her order that Anoka-Hennepin School District is the largest in the state and so its “policies affect a large number of students within” Minnesota.
“Additionally, a decision on the issues presented in this case will affect all students within the State of Minnesota and, more importantly, give guidance to all school districts,” Jasper said, noting that the school district “is unsure of its legal obligations to transgender students with respect to use of restrooms and locker rooms as demonstrated by its inability to adopt a policy to address this issue.”
“All Minnesotans have legitimate interest in having the issues raised in this lawsuit resolved,” she concluded.
She also granted a request from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to intervene on behalf of N.H. in the case on the grounds that it is of “general public importance.”
“Separate has never been, and never will be, equal,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Deputy Commissioner Irina Vaynerman in a press release. “Since 1993, the Minnesota Human Rights Act has protected everyone from gender identity discrimination, including transgender and gender nonconforming students. The court’s ruling affirms our right to uphold these protections.”
Gender Justice and the ACLU of Minnesota celebrated the ruling in a press release Tuesday.
“Allowing the lawsuit to continue and the state Department of Human Rights to join this fight is a big step toward justice for N.H. and other transgender students facing discrimination,” McKinney said. “The judge’s strongly worded opinion acknowledges the risk our transgender students face in education settings, and how discrimination can prevent them from getting an equal and adequate education.”
Gender Justice Senior Counsel Christy Hall said she hopes the “court’s plain language today sends a message that schools that fail to provide supportive environments for their trans and gender nonconforming students are at risk of a lawsuit.”
A jury trial for the case is reportedly scheduled for March 2020. Jasper’s full order can be read here.
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