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Illinois Families Sue Obama Administration Over Trans-Inclusive Policies

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The Obama administration is bullying Illinois families by requiring cisgender (nontrans) students to share a locker room with a transgender classmate, according to a federal lawsuit filed by 51 families in Palatine, Ill. 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, claims the federal government is discriminating against students by allowing a transgender girl at William Fremd High School to use the locker room that corresponds with her gender identity.

The families are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and Thomas More Society, both notorious right-wing, anti-LGBT legal nonprofits, which claim that the U.S. Department of Education’s inclusive stance on trans bathroom access is a “blatant violation of student privacy.”

“The school district should rescind its privacy-violating policies, and the court should order the Department of Education to stop bullying school districts with falsehoods about what federal law requires,” ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco told the Chicago-Sun Times.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a longstanding controversy about the trans teen's inclusion in the school district. Last year, Illinois’ Township High School District 211 was forced to comply with Title IX standards as outlined in the Education Amendments of 1972, which bar discrimination in public schools on the basis of race, national origin, or sex. In 2014, the Department of Justice released a memo stating that these protections also extend to gender identity, meaning that trans students are covered by federal law. 

The trans student in question, who requested that her name be kept out of the lawsuit, had initially been blocked from using the girl’s locker room at school. Although administrators allowed her to use the women’s restroom, staff argued that allowing her to use a changing area with other girls constituted a privacy concern. In response, the student filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The Department of Education sided on behalf of the student, and the district ultimately agreed to abide by its decision, after initially threatening to back out of its obligations to the student. If it had not done so, the Palatine school could have lost $6 million in federal funding.

The district's decision to comply with federal regulation prompted Vicki Wilson to form a group called “Students and Parents for Privacy,” believing that the Obama administration's trans-affirming policy is “illegal and unconstitutional.” Wilson told the Chicago Sun-Times that District 211 caved in to a "radical agenda" based primarily out of financial concerns.

“We expected the district to stand up to their bullying, because it’s a school’s duty to protect our children when they are threatened,” Wilson said. “But somehow, the school board decided that the privacy and dignity of our children had no value when weighed against dollars and cents.”

Wilson represents the 73 parents and 63 students who are named plaintiffs in recent lawsuit. The court filing alleges that since that ruling was handed down, using the locker room with a trans student has made life difficult for the plaintiffs’ families. “Every day these girls go to school, they experience embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, fear, apprehension, stress, degradation and loss of dignity because they will have to use the locker room and restroom with a biological male,” the complaint reads.

The suit further claims that female students who weren’t comfortable undressing in the presence of a trans person were “ridiculed and harassed by other students to such an extent that the stalls are not a practical option.” The students filing the claim further stated that their peers labeled them “transphobic” and “homophobic” due to their discomfort.

In the case of one student, ThinkProgress reports that she even wore “her gym clothes under other clothes to avoid changing for phys ed at all.” ThinkProgress's Zack Ford notes the irony that the aggrieved families refuse to accept the same accommodation the school initially offered the trans student — that she use a private restroom and changing facility, away from all other students. 

The complaint repeatedly misgenders the transgender student, referring to her as “he.” Jocelyn Floyd, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, further did so in an interview with ThinkProgress. “We sympathize with children who have difficult personal issues to work through,” she said. However, Floyd doesn’t believe that students should be “permitted to deal with those issues in intimate settings with a 14-year-old girl.”

Floyd further claimed that the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX is an affront to women’s rights. “To impose such a rule on still-developing teenage girls — already struggling with puberty's changes on their bodies and social pressures to look a certain way — undermines their dignity and tells them that their rights don't matter," she told the Chicago Tribune.

In a statement released to the Windy City Times, Ed Yohnka of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union referred to the motion as a “publicity stunt,” further writing that it’s a “sad development by groups opposed to fair and humane treatment of all students, including those who are transgender." He continued, “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.”

Prior to the suit’s filing, the Chicago Public Schools released updated guidelines for administrators on Tuesday regarding support and resources for the district’s trans student population.

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