A transgender student’s use of the girls’ locker room at Virginia High School has prompted a lawsuit and put the Iron Range district in the center of the state and national debate over transgender rights.
A group of parents has sued the Virginia school district and federal education and justice departments, telling them to roll back the district policy that allows transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities. They added that the federal rule requiring schools to view gender identity as sex is unlawful.
The suit was filed in September by a group of parents and students who call themselves Privacy Matters. They argue that student privacy is at risk when a biologically male student changes clothes in a locker room with their female children.
“No student should be forced to use private facilities at school, like locker rooms and restrooms, with students of the opposite sex,” the lawsuit said.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the transgender student.
The ACLU’s motion, a joint filing from both the state and national arms of the group, maintains that students should be able to use restrooms that align with their gender identification, and a right “to access facilities consistent with her gender identity on a nondiscriminatory basis.”
“The parents seek to take away her right to be an ordinary high school girl, marginalizing and segregating her from her classmates and teammates,” the motion said.
Schools nationally are weighing privacy alongside student rights as they scramble to accommodate students who transition between genders in high school. A May directive from the Obama administration said transgender students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities — or schools would risk federal funding.
The issue arose in St. Paul last school year after parents of a transgender kindergartner at Nova Classical Academy charter school said their child was bullied and the school nixed plans to aid the student’s transition. In April, Gov. Mark Dayton canceled state travel to North Carolina because of its law limiting restroom use to biological sex.
The transgender student in Virginia is a sophomore at Virginia High School called Jane Doe in the ACLU motion.
The district changed its policy that barred Doe from using girls’ facilities last school year to align with federal rule, according to the lawsuit.
This upset some female students who had to use facilities alongside Doe.
Ten families in the school district make up Privacy Matters, the group that brought the suit.
The policy that let the transgender student use the locker room with their female children caused the girls to feel stressed and anxious at school, “knowing that to obtain an education they must attend to their most personal needs in private facilities unprotected from the entrance, presence, or exposure of a male,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition, the suit said, the students had to deal with Doe’s locker room behavior, which included asking a girl for her bra size, dancing to sexually explicit music and changing clothes near girls who want their privacy.
The ACLU’s motion said this is an example of “salacious phrasing” for behaviors normal for a teenage girl.
“We’re surprised that this person is singled out just for being transgender,” said Ben Feist, ACLU of Minnesota spokesperson.