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Wisconsin Trans Student Sues for Equal Bathroom Access

Ashton Whitaker and mom Melissa

The Transgender Law Center has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of a transgender boy in Kenosha, Wis., who has been denied access to the boys’ restrooms at his high school.

Ashton Whitaker, 16, had been using the boys’ restrooms at Tremper High School without incident since the beginning of the school year — until school administrators intervened and threatened him with disciplinary action, according to a press release from the legal group. The administrators then ordered him to use “an out-of-the-way bathroom to which no other student has access,” the press release notes. As a result, he generally avoids using any restroom at school.

The Bay Area-based center reports that the school has accepted Whitaker as a boy in other respects, using his correct name and pronouns and allowing him to run for prom king. Officials with the high school and the Kenosha Unified School District sought to block him from running for king, but relented after students protested and petitioned on his behalf.

Students have also petitioned for his restroom access, and the Transgender Law Center sent the school district a letter last month demanding that he and other transgender students be given access to the facilities that match their gender identity. The center warned that the district could face legal action if it refused, but it did, leading to the complaint filed today. The organization is also considering a federal lawsuit against the district.

“As the United States Attorney General so movingly affirmed earlier this week, singling out transgender youth for discrimination is a violation of both our values and our laws as a country,” said Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi in the press release. “It is past time for schools to get in line with the law and treat all of their students, including transgender students like Ash, fairly and equally.”

“School is no longer the safe and welcoming place that it used to be,” Whitaker said in the release. “Being banned from the boys’ bathroom is a daily reminder that school administrators see me as someone who is so different from the other students that I’m not even allowed to share a bathroom with them. I’ve basically stopped using the bathroom at school altogether, which makes it painful and difficult to get through the school day.”

Last year the Department of Education ruled that a school district in Illinois had committed unlawful discrimination by denying a transgender girl access to the girls’ locker room. After some resistance, Township High School District 211 in Palatine agreed to accommodate the girl. Last week a group of families in the district sued the federal government, alleging that letting her use the girls’ locker room is an act of discrimination against other students that threatens their safety and privacy.

The Department of Education and the Department of Justice have held that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, in banning discrimination based on sex, also bans discrimination based on gender identity. Schools that violate this law can lose federal funding. Just this week, the federal government cited Title IX in its lawsuit seeking to strike down North Carolina’s restrictions on transgender people’s restroom access.

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