NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three transgender high school students have launched legal action on Thursday after their school reversed a policy allowing them for years to use school bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said of the unprecedented case.
The civil complaint against a Pennsylvania school district was filed in a federal court amid mounting scrutiny over transgender rights in the United States with concerns about access to public bathrooms, healthcare and even the ballot box making headlines.
“This is the first lawsuit in which we have students that had an affirming policy, where without incidents, for years, were able to use the restrooms that matches their gender identity, and just as they started their senior year, the school board reversed [that practice],” plaintiffs’ attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
One of the plaintiffs, 18-year-old Juliet Evancho, said the new school rule made her feel “exposed and vulnerable.”
“I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, co-plaintiff Elissa Ridenour, also 18, said the rule had made her “feel constantly under surveillance”.
“For years, I have used the girls’ restroom without incident,” she said in a separate statement. “I‘m a girl. But I‘m expected to use the boys’ room?”
Evancho, Ridenour and a 17-year-old transgender boy, referred to only as A.S., are seeking an injunction that would force the school district to grant them access to bathrooms matching their gender identity.
They are also seeking a judgment declaring the district’s policy is unconstitutional and discriminates against them, as well as damages.
The Pine-Richland School District decided in September that students should use “facilities that correspond to their biological sex or unisex facilities,” according to its website.
Students were told they would be disciplined if they disobeyed the rule, the complaint said.
Rachel A. Hathhorn, a spokeswoman for the Pine-Richland School District said by email that “the district does not discuss or comment on litigation”.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys with Lambda Legal, a New York City-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group.
Legal battles are being fought across the country as school officials and lawmakers debate whether transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity instead of their birth sex.
North Carolina earlier this year enacted a measure mandating that multiple-use bathrooms and locker rooms be restricted according to a person’s biological gender. The law has prompted protests and boycotts.
Jillian Weiss, executive director of the New York City-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said the cases were “the inevitable backlash that transgender people are facing as their civil rights become increasingly recognized”.
Late last month, in a move hailed as an advance of transgender rights, California passed a law that will open single-stall public restrooms to anyone regardless of gender.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org