A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a transgender student from Wisconsin must be allowed to use the bathroom suiting their gender identity in school.
The decision was praised by lawyers for 17-year old Ashton Whitaker.
Reuters reports the ruling was the first time a federal appellate court upheld the notion that transgender students should be protected by statutes forbidding discrimination in education.
Whitaker’s lawsuit began after teachers and administrators at George Nelson Temper High School refused to let the 17-year old student use the boys’ restroom. Since Whitaker’s birth certificate declared Ashton was a female, staff said, then Whitaker would have to use the girls’ bathroom.
The judgment made by staff set off litigation by the Whitaker family, which has led to a series of drawn-out legal battles.
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago sided with Ashton and his family, agreeing it was likely that Whitaker would face “irreparable harm” ‘if banned from the boys’ restroom.’
The same panel also ruled that Whitaker’s rights were protected by a set of anti-discrimination laws covered by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Ronald Stadler, a lawyer representing George Nelson and its parent district, was critical of the decision, questioning how the court “created a new right extending discrimination because of sex to now include the status of being transgender.”
Interestingly, the Title IX argument was being used in the Whitaker case even before it headed to court.
The Daily Beast records Whitaker as saying that he’d broached the topic with school officials, noting how Title IX had been applied in similar cases. The district official Whitaker spoke to allegedly dismissed the argument out of hand, saying she didn’t need to explain the law and its protections to Ashton.
The Beast article, which ran last July, delved further into the case, as well as some of the injustices which had been forced onto Whitaker.
According to Ashton, being denied the right to use the restroom corresponding with his gender identity was just one part of a larger, coordinated set of discriminatory acts.
He says school officials asked transgender students to identify themselves – afterward, they were made to wear bright green wristbands, so that staff could “more easily monitor and enforce [their] restroom usage.”
Ashton was told he could either use the ladies’ restroom or a single-occupancy unit in the school’s office, far from most of his classes.
Later, on a school trip to Europe, Ashton was ‘forced’ to share a room with a girl, despite requests for a “same-sex” assignment.
Judge Ann Claire Williams was dismissive of the district and its counsels’ assertions that they were trying to ensure the privacy and safety of all their students.
“A transgender person’s presence in the restroom provides no more of a risk to other students’ privacy rights than the presence of an overly curious student of the same biological sex who decides to sneak glances at his or her classmates,” wrote Williams in her ruling.
Whitaker, who told the court about how he’d fainted and contemplated suicide in the days before the lawsuit, was pleased by the appellate panel’s ruling.
“It’s nice knowing this will definitely be a beacon for other trans kids and other members of the community to look to as a source for help,” he said.