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Conservative groups file suit against District 211 and feds in school bathroom case
Updated May 8, 2016
by Matt Simonette
2016-05-04

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A federal lawsuit was filed against the government and a suburban school district May 4 over that district's rules allowing a transgender student to use the locker room facilities of the gender with which she identified.

Alliance Defending Freedom and the Thomas More Society filed suit on behalf of 51 area families against the United States Department of Education, United States Department of Justice and Township District 211, claiming that the district violated students' privacy by allowing a transgender student to use locker room facilities of the sex with which she identified.

The lawsuit further claims that such rules constitute an "illegal expansion" of federal Title IX regulations, which were used to force the district into compliance when it originally did not allow the student to change where she was most comfortable.

The suit comes as school districts, cities and states, both across the region and across the country, grapple with the issue of facilities use by transgender individuals. Throughout 2015, the district engaged in tumultuous negotiations with the federal government, and nearly lost its federal funding over the matter. Many parents were not happy when the issue was seemingly settled in December 2015. The plaintiffs are framing the lawsuit both as a matter of privacy and an overreach of Title IX laws.

In a press conference at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Alliance Defending Freedom's Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said, "When parents send their children to school, they trust that their school will protect their sons' and daughters' privacy, safety and dignity. But what happens when a school abandons that responsibility and forces their children to share restrooms and locker rooms with members of the opposite sex? Even worse, what if the school did so after entering into an involuntary settlement with the U.S. Department of Education, who had threatened the district if it did not allow co-mingling of the sexes in private facilities. That is exactly what is happening in Township District 211."

Tedesco maintained that Title IX definitions of sex only include "male and female," adding, "It does not include gender identity, and does not include the right to strip students of their right to privacy while showering, changing or using the restroom." He further called rules such as those in place at Township District 211 an "ill-advised social experiment."

Jocelyn Floyd, associate counsel for the Thomas More Society, added, "In the 19th Century, as women began to enter the traditional male sphere of the workplace, gaining access to private, secure and separate bathrooms was perhaps the single most important step forward in women's rights."

She added that the district and government authorities had chosen to "eradicate" that freedom for female students. "This is a dangerous precedent, and a massive step backwards for women."

Vicki Wilson, a Township District 211 parent, said, "I am stepping in to stand up for my children, and all of our children. ... No school should impose a policy like this against the will of so many parents."

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at ACLU of Illinois, which defended the student in 2015, called the May 4 suit "a publicity stunt" in a statement.

"Today's lawsuit is a sad development by groups opposed to fair and humane treatment of all students, including those who are transgender," said Yohnka. "Over the past few weeks, a federal appellate court and the Chicago Public Schools have definitively embraced the idea that affirming the gender identity of all students, including by permitting students who are transgender access the appropriate restroom and locker-room facilities, is not only legally required but also educationally beneficial for all students.

"The Alliance Defending Freedom and the Thomas More Society ignore this reality, as well as the reality that an overwhelming percentage of students accept their transgender peers—including in their bathrooms and locker rooms. It is only a small percentage of adults who insist on perpetuating these non-controversies by perpetuating ugly distortions about a vulnerable group of young people."

Christopher Clark—counsel and young adults, teens and children program strategist at Lambda Legal—said in a statement, "There are no examples of a cisgender person, let alone a student, being attacked or harassed by a transgender person in a locker room or restroom. This lawsuit, seeks to create a problem where there is none and is discriminatory fear-mongering, pure and simple. Child welfare professionals have said time and time again that discriminatory policies are harmful to transgender and gender nonconforming students. And school districts across the country that have adopted inclusive and supportive policies have found that they lead to greater understanding and respect among their students. We are hopeful that the Court will protect the safety and well-being of all students by quickly and decisively rejecting this misguided lawsuit."

The lawsuit came just a day after Chicago Public Schools earned praise from LGBT-rights advocates for updating its policies for transgender students, staff and volunteers. Other suburban and Downstate districts have grappled with the issue as well, as more students come out as transgender.

In Aurora, on May 2, a group of pastors and community members gathered outside an East Aurora School District 131 board meeting to pray, partially on the basis of a rumor that the board was considering a restroom policy for transgender students, according to Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune also reported that many districts try to address the issue on case-by-case basis without a blanket policy.

Lyons Township High School has a few gender-neutral restrooms available, for example, and lets transgender students use facilities they're most comfortable with. York High School in Elmhurst reported a similar policy. Hinsdale South and Hinsdale Central High Schools, meanwhile, have or will have single-person restrooms available.

But having single-sex facilities or nurse's offices available is not necessarily convenient for a transgender student.

Alex McCray, a transgender male high school senior in Downstate Williamsville, in late April signed an agreement with his school that allowed him to use the bathroom of his choice. He had been consigned to an inconvenient bathroom far from his classes, and started his own personal boycott.

"There were several times that I passed a lot of bathrooms that I could have used, just to get to that one," McCray told NPR.

Chicago Tribune's coverage is at trib.in/1O9KAW8 and trib.in/1q3QxIO. NPR's coverage is at bit.ly/1q87PV7 .


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