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Trans student talks fight to secure locker-room access
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Matt Simonette

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A transgender suburban teenager recently filed a lawsuit against her high school's district to ensure equitable access to public accommodations, even though the district has been in the headlines for for more than two years after it failed to make similar accommodations for another student.

Nova Maday, 18, is a student in her senior year at Palatine High School, which falls under the jurisdiction of Township High School District 211. Since beginning courses at the school her freshman year, she has been trying to win the right to use the girls' locker room facilities prior to and after her gym class.

Maday was initially instructed to use the school nurse's office to change, but that oftentimes resulted in her being late for class, since, depending on the scheduled activity, the class could meet in any number of places, she said.

"I'd be forced to walk around and wander, and I'd be late for class, depending on where we were meeting, out of the 10 places we could meet," Maday added.

At another point, school officials arranged for her to have her own private changing facility, which used to be a staff locker room, but that ultimately proved to be equally taxing, she said.

"One day when I went in to change, it turned out the whole locker unit had been removed as part of renovations," she recalled. "We had this huge, exhaustive, emotional process of ( my ) being handed over to multiple staff members to try to find it. It was out on a loading dock, in the middle of winter, with my clothes in it. Even when they got me my stuff, let me change and escorted me back to gym class, my teacher wanted me to do the full workout, which was impossible to do in the time. I'd missed nearly half the class."

At one point, school officials said they'd post the meeting place of each gym class outside the locker room, but Maday said that the posting process only lasted about a week, and added said the sign itself was removed after about a month.

"They showed that they didn't care much for it, and were not dedicated to getting that information to me," she said.

In 2015, a transgender student in District 211 sued in order to similarly gain access to the girl's locker room facilities. The Obama administration's Department of Education intervened in the case and said that the school was at risk of forfeiting federal monies under Title IX rules should they not have accommodated the student. The district agreed, but that further raised the ire of other students' families who filed suit against the district and the federal government in 2016; that case is still pending.

District 211 only implemented a policy change on behalf of that first transgender student, and did not put a district-wide change into effect, maintain Maday and her lawyers.

"During that case, I was at first hopeful that I would get somewhere with my issue, because I knew that I was not the only one fighting for it," she said. "But unfortunately, soon after it resolved, the district informed us that it only applied to that student, and that they wouldn't make the same accommodation for me, which was really disappointing and let me down."

Maday said that the district at one point offered to let her use the girls' locker room if she used an isolated area, which was the arrangement the first transgender student hoped for.

"We then asked the question, 'Are other girls required to change in that same area?' To which they replied, 'No. They are not.' So we couldn't take that option.'"

Maday filed her suit Nov. 30 in Cook County Circuit Court. Her representation includes John Knight and Ghirlandi Guidetti of ACLU of Illinois as well as Jeffrey H. Bergman of Mandell Menkes LLC.

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