ACLU Files Complaint on Behalf of Trans Nursing Student Denied Bathroom Rights

By Daniel Reynolds

Originally published on Advocate.com September 17 2013 2:03 PM ET

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Education against a Florida technical school, saying the school acted in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act when it forbade a transgender nursing student to use the gender-specific bathrooms used by all other female students. 

The ACLU had previously warned the Pinellas Tehnical Education Center in Clearwater, Fla., of the violation in a letter sent to its superintendent August 22, urging the school to grant the student, Alex Wilson, "immediate access to all sex-specific programs, activities, and facilities at PTEC consistent with her gender identity.” After a month without response, the organization has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Education.

"It’s unfortunate that school administrators have not yet taken action to stop this violation of Alex’s rights,” Daniel Tilley, the LGBT rights staff attorney of ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “Alex was treated the same as any other student until administrators found out she is transgender. Now they are stigmatizing her and humiliating her because of her gender identity.”

Wilson is a certified nursing assistant taking classes at the center to become a licensed practical nurse, according to WFLA TV. She also happens to be a transgender woman who began hormone therapy more than four years ago, who presents as female, and whose driver's license and Social Security card list her as female, the ACLU confirmed. 

Until July, Wilson used the women's restrooms in various campus buildings between and during classes without incident. But when administrators learned that the 25-year-old student is transgender, they pulled her out of class and informed her she would no longer be allowed to use any of the public women's restrooms. Instead, she would be required to use a single-stall bathroom in what an administrator termed a "storage facility" in the administration building, or the men's faculty restroom, which requires a separate key. The ACLU notes that until recently, neither of these facilities locked from the inside. Wilson was reportedly offered use of a "family restroom" in another building as well but was told by school officials that if she used any of the women's restrooms, the school would file criminal charges against her, which would make her ineligible to graduate. 

The ACLU complaint notes that the school's treatment of Wilson amounts to sex discrimination, prohibited under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Citing a 2012 case that determined Title IX's prohibition of discrimination on sex extends to gender identity, the ACLU notes two additional federal cases that determine differential treatment based on gender nonconformity is, in fact, sex discrimination. 

The complaint calls for the Department of Education to investigate Pinellas County Schools on this matter. It also asks that the department compel the school district to allow Wilson to use the women's restrooms, to train officials on the rights of transgender students, and to adjust current policies to conform with Title IX. If these demands are not met, the ACLU is asking that federal funds to the district be denied.