Federal education officials found this week that Illinois’ Township High School District 211 is discriminating against a transgender student on the basis of her sex. This is the first case of its kind regarding the rights of a transgender student as protected by Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination.
Despite being given 30 days to comply or face losing federal funding, the district maintains its position.
The decision is the result of a 2013 complaint on behalf of the woman, who prefers not to reveal her name. Upon enrollment, she and her parents met with school officials to request that she be treated as a female in all ways, and in most instances, she had been. She used the female restroom, wore the female uniform during physical education class and sports, but she was not allowed to use the female locker room for changing, and instead was directed to a separate bathroom.
The student in question is happy about the decision passed down by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). “Because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others,” she said. “The district’s policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person.’”
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District officials say the student is allowed to change in the girls’ locker room, but must be behind a curtain. The student asserts that while she would probably change behind the curtain regardless, it is unfair that in her case it is mandatory while the other girls have a choice.
“District 211 has provided individual accommodations in a manner that does not infringe on the privacy concerns of other students, and it will continue to do so,” reads a statement from the school district, which cited “privacy” concerns for students. “It is the District’s position that OCR’s unilateral mandate does not consider the best interests of all District 211 students and their families.”
This case is significant because of how publicly the school district is standing its ground against the federal law. Some advocates worry that this could set a precedent with other school districts that might be hostile to transgender student rights.
“If the school persists in discriminating against transgender students in terms of depriving them of equal access to locker rooms, that could potentially inspire other schools who don’t want to do the right thing,” Demoya Gordon, staff and transgender rights project attorney at Lambda Legal, told Rewire. “This would be detrimental to thousands of students across the country because we know that part of the recognized protocol for transgender people, including transgender youth, is to affirm their identities in all aspects of life. That includes everything from the pronouns you use to refer to somebody, to the name that you use, to every aspect of their day-to-day life, which obviously includes restrooms and locker rooms.”
The standoff between Township High School District 211 and the federal government comes at at time when transgender rights, particularly the rights of students, are at the forefront of a national conversation. Rewire reported this week on a proposed bill in Wisconsin that would ban transgender students from using the restroom designated for the gender with which they identify.
Gordon said that Lambda Legal is closely watching both cases.
The GOP-backed Wisconsin bill was scheduled to be discussed in a legislative hearing this week. The hearing was rescheduled.