In landmark ruling, US federal appeals court sides with trans student in Wisconsin bathroom case
Photo: Ash Whitaker via Facebook
Ash Whitaker sued his Wisconsin school district over right to use bathroom matching his gender identity
A federal appeals court has sided with a transgender student in Wisconsin who sued his school over its bathroom policy.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is seen as a landmark decision.
The court found that the student, Ash Whitaker, is protected from discrimination under Title IX of the US Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The three-judge panel unanimously found that the Kenosha Unified School District ‘has not demonstrated that it will suffer any harm;’ from having to comply with a lower court’s order allowing Whitaker to use the school bathroom that matches his gender identity.
‘The harms identified by the School District are all speculative and based upon conjecture, whereas the harms to Ash are well‐documented and supported by the record,’ Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote for the panel.
The Transgender Law Center, which represented Whitaker, released a statement from the student who said: ‘After facing daily humiliation at school last year from being threatened with discipline and being constantly monitored by school staff just to use the bathroom, the district court’s injunction in September allowed me to be a typical senior in high school and to focus on my classes, after-school activities, applying to college, and building lasting friendships.
‘I hope my case will help other transgender students in Kenosha and elsewhere to just be treated the same as everyone else without facing discrimination and harassment from school administrators.’
The judges rejected the school district’s argument that since it treats all boys and girls the same, it does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.
‘This is untrue,’ Williams wrote. ‘Rather, the School District treats transgender students like Ash, who fail to conform to the sex‐based stereotypes associated with their assigned sex at birth, differently.”
The Wisconsin case differs from that of Gavin Grimm in Virginia which has been se to become the first transgender rights case to be heard by the US Supreme Court.
The Grimm case was argued on Obama-era Education Department guidance on Title IX. The case was sent back to a lower court when the administration of US President Donald Trump rescinded the guidance earlier this year.
‘This is a great victory for transgender students,’ said Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center’s executive director.
‘The battleground may be bathrooms, but the real issue is fairness and transgender people’s ability to go to school, to work, and simply to exist in public spaces. This win makes that more possible for more people.’
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also applauded the ruling.
‘It sends a strong signal to schools, districts, and states that they have an obligation to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students from discrimination, and to provide an educational environment wherein they can thrive,’ said President and CEO Wade Henderson.
‘Despite the disappointing decision by the Trump Departments of Justice and Education to rescind the Title IX guidance which set forth protections for transgender students, it’s clear that a growing number of courts recognize that all Americans, regardless of gender identity, deserve the full protection of the law.’