A transgender student is suing Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District for discrimination, saying he was barred from using the boys’ locker room and forced to use a segregated changing facility.
The new suit follows one that came several years ago in the district after several student suicides, alleging it allowed uncontrolled bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students. That suit resulted in a 2012 settlement under which the federal government monitored the district’s treatment of LGBTQ students for five years.
That monitoring, under a process known as a consent decree, was still in place when the discrimination against the trans student, identified as N.H. in the suit, took place, according to the Gender Justice League and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which are representing him and his mother, identified as I.H. The district, one of the nation’s largest, is located just north of the Twin Cities.
The groups say N.H., a student in the district’s Coon Rapids High School, had joined the boys’ swimming team and used the boys’ locker room for several months without incident when, in February 2016, the Anoka-Hennepin school board decided to bar him from the locker room and force him to use a separate changing room.
“These actions had immediate health consequences for N.H., who was hospitalized because of mental health concerns four days later,” according to the suit, filed Monday in Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District Court.
Throughout the remainder of the 2016 school year, and during much of the 2017 school year, this degrading and stigmatizing segregation singled N.H. out as unfit to use the same changing facilities that are available to cis-gender male students,” the suit continues. “N.H. was hospitalized again following a public debate during which the Board heard testimony from members of the public affiliated with hate groups, and ultimately his parents and care providers determined it was critical that he complete his high school education elsewhere.”
The suit asks the court to declare that the school’s policy violated N.H.’s rights and require the district to change the policy in keeping with the court’s decision. It also seeks punitive and compensatory damages, with the amount not specified, and attorneys’ fees and court costs. It asks for a jury trial.
“Anoka-Hennepin School District’s policy directly contradicts guidance about the equal treatment of transgender students from the Minnesota Department of Education,” says a press release from Gender Justice League and the ACLU of Minnesota. It also violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, the groups say.
“The stakes in this case are high and all too real,” Gender Justice executive director Megan Peterson said in the release. “Nearly 3 percent of Minnesota students identify as transgender or gender-diverse. Treating them fairly -- including having them use facilities that match their gender identity -- decreases their risk of depression and anxiety. Transgender students are two to three times more likely to experience daily verbal and physical harassment, and more than half attempt suicide. As adults, we have an obligation to protect these kids. Anoka-Hennepin School District has a legal duty to protect its students.”
Anoka-Hennepin officials told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the district makes decisions on locker rooms and restrooms for transgender students on a case-by-case basis. “The district said its plans to accommodate transgender and nonconforming students are made in consultation with school building administrators, Title IX coordinator and district superintendent,” the paper reports. “Its policy and practices are consistent with guidance from national and local School Boards Associations, which follow state and federal law, it said.” Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law banning sex discrimination.