A transgender girl and her parents have sued to challenge a Tennessee law that bars students and staffers in public schools from using the multi-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms that match their gender identity.
The suit was filed Thursday in federal court, the Associated Press reports. It’s the second one to contest the law, which was enacted last year, but the previous suit was dropped when the plaintiffs moved to another state.
The new suit was brought by the Human Rights Campaign and the Linklaters law firm on behalf of an 8-year-old identified as D.H. and her parents, A.H. and E.H. It names the Tennessee Department of Education, the Williamson County Board of Education, and their leaders as defendants.
D.H. began transitioning socially two years ago. In January, however, administrators at her school said she could not use the girls’ restroom because of the Tennessee law. She had been attending school online previously but was permitted to use girls’ restrooms when she attended any in-person event, but once she returned for in-person classes, that was not an option for her. The school has four single-occupancy restrooms that she has been allowed to use, but this amounts to “differential treatment,” the complaint says.
“Each of [these restrooms] presented its own issues,” according to the suit. “These issues included D.H. having to clean restrooms covered in human waste before using them, and being forced to out herself as transgender in front of other students or janitorial staff.” The situation has become so bad that she has limited how much she eats and drinks so she doesn’t have to use the restrooms at school.
This “differential treatment” violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds, the suit contends. It seeks to have the restroom law struck down, nominal damages to cover the family’s costs, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
“Years ago, I chose to move to Tennessee because it was known as ‘the volunteer state,’ whose citizens cared for their neighbors without hesitation — not a state that legalizes discrimination against helpless children,” A.H., D.H.’s mother, said in an HRC press release. “Now I am embarrassed to say that I live in a state that refuses to see anything beyond my child’s gender. She is a bright, friendly, funny, creative, enthusiastic little girl and is always the first kid to cheer you on if you are struggling. By filing this lawsuit, I am showing my volunteer spirit — because I’m fighting to not only affirm my child’s existence, but also the thousands of transgender and nonbinary children who live in Tennessee.”
“It is unfortunate that Tennessee lawmakers are using their authority to attack some of our nation’s most vulnerable — our children,” added Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver, HRC’s litigation director. “These power-seeking politicians will not stop pandering to their base, even if it means controlling which restrooms an 8-year-old uses at school. We should all be inspired by D.H.’s strength and determination to fight for the right to be who she is. She, and all transgender and nonbinary children in Tennessee, deserve to be affirmed and encouraged to be who they are, in all aspects of their lives.”
The AP sought comment from the Tennessee attorney general’s office, which declined to make a statement.
Another Tennessee “bathroom law” was struck down by a federal court in May. It required businesses to post warning signs if they allowed trans people to use the public restrooms of their choice.
“It would do a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the Act for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment,” U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in her ruling.
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