The Department of Education is investigating a complaint of a gender-fluid student assaulting a 5-year-old cisgender girl in a school restroom in Decatur, Ga.
The complaint, filed by the girl’s mother, Pascha Thomas, alleges that the gender-fluid child, whom the document calls a male, pushed the girl against a wall and touched her genitals without her consent, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It was filed with the Education Department in May; the department’s Office of Civil Rights agreed last month to investigate it, and its decision was made public Wednesday. The complaint refers to the girl as N.T. and does not name the other child.
Thomas is being represented by both a local attorney and the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has brought many cases opposing the rights of gay and transgender people. It represented Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, in a case that went to the Supreme Court, where Phillips won a qualified victory.
A spokeswoman for the Decatur school district disputed the mother’s account in the complaint. “City Schools of Decatur is committed to supporting all students,” spokeswoman Courtney Burnett said in an email to several media outlets. “We are aware of the unfounded allegations made by the Alliance Defending Freedom. We fully disagree with their characterization of the situation and are addressing it with the Office of Civil Rights. As this is a pending legal matter, we have no further comment at this time.“
The ADF is characterizng the incident as an indictment of policies that allow students to use restrooms designated for the gender with which they identify. “By permitting boys to enter the girls’ restroom and other private areas based solely on the boy’s stated self-identification, the Policy creates risks of assaults and harassment of a sexual nature that would otherwise not exist,” the complaint says.
In a statement to Politico, ADF lawyer Christiana Holcomb added, “This situation was both deeply tragic and avoidable. Schools have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all students and Decatur Schools clearly failed this young girl. The current approach that many schools are taking of passing these transgender bathroom policies isn’t working; they fail to provide basic privacy or ensure the safety of all students.”
The Education Department, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, and the Justice Department last year rescinded guidelines issued during President Obama’s administration that advised schools to allow trans students access to the restrooms of their choice and to use their preferred names and pronouns. But schools remain free to set trans-inclusive policies if they choose.
A study published recently in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law found that trans-inclusive restroom and locker room policies do not lead to an increase in assaults. “We found only one instance — one! — of a transgender perpetrator in an alleged sex crime in a changing room,” lead researcher Brian Barnett wrote in a HuffPost commentary. Most of the complaints brought by right-wing groups have turned out to be unfounded, according to the study.
The investigation “signals a major development in [DeVos’s] controversial policies on transgender bathroom access in schools and her handling of civil rights enforcement for transgender students,” Politico reports. Since the Obama-era policy was rescinded, the department “has stopped investigating civil rights complaints filed by transgender students over bathroom access and has dismissed some of those complaints,” it notes. Restroom restrictions have been known to cause health problems because they lead many trans students to avoid using restrooms at school. Trans students are often subject to harassment if they use restrooms designated for the sex they were assigned at birth.
DeVos, who was visiting Atlanta Wednesday, “told reporters she was unaware of the Decatur case, but said it’s her agency’s duty to investigate such complaints,” the Journal-Constitution reports.