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Notorious School District to Pay Trans Youth $300K to Settle Suit

Student and mother
The youth (blurred) and his mother

A young transgender man had sued Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District for discrimination.

A transgender youth has won a $300,000 settlement in his discrimination lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota.

The young man, identified as Nick or N.H., was barred from using the boys' changing room as a member of the swim team early in 2016, even though he had been using it for several months without incident.

"Nick was singled out and forced to use segregated changing facilities that no other students were required to use. This discrimination led to bullying and threats against his family, causing Nick emotional distress and harm," says a press release from Gender Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, and Stinson LLP, all of which represented him the suit. He was hospitalized three times for mental health concerns because of the situation and eventually transferred out of the district. He filed the suit in 2019 in Minnesota's Tenth Judicial District Court.

The district, located just north of the Twin Cities and the largest in the state, agreed to take several actions as part of the settlement. These include reaffirming its commitment to comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act and not discriminate against transgender students; developing a policy to allow every student to use all facilities consistent with their gender identity that includes a complaint procedure and a prohibition on retaliation; training all school board members, staff, and students on these policies; and affirming that students of all gender identities are valued and welcome.

"I never want any student to experience the discrimination and cruelty I experienced from the adults at my school," Nick said in the press release. "It means a lot to see the courts protect transgender students like me. Today's settlement agreement makes it very clear that segregating transgender students doesn't just dehumanize us, it violates our legal rights."

The settlement comes after a ruling by the state Court of Appeals affirmed that it is a violation of both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Constitution for school districts to segregate transgender students from their peers in locker room facilities. The school district had sought unsuccessfully to have the suit dismissed, and it could have been liable for punitive damages if the suit had gone to trial and Nick had won, the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes.

"Over the past year, we've seen a growing wave of political attacks against the rights of transgender children to health care, education, or even to play sports," Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson said in the release. "Students like Nick need and deserve the same acceptance as their classmates. Instead, far too many are being targeted for discrimination by adults who should be watching out for them. With this settlement, we hope to send a message that discrimination against trans students is not only wrong, it comes at a cost."

Anoka-Hennepin has been criticized for its treatment of LGBTQ+ students for several years. In 2012 it agreed to a settlement in a suit brought by six current and former students who said they'd been subjected to anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and that the district's response was inadequate. The district at that time also agreed to a consent decree, that is, a partnership with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to implement inclusive policies. The consent decree was in effect for five years, so the discrimination against Nick began in that period.

The 2012 settlement came shortly after a Rolling Stone article detailed the district's anti-LGBTQ+ climate and a cluster of nine student suicides. District officials contended that the suicides were not related to homophobic bullying.

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