Minnesota sues school district after trans teen was banned from boys' locker room

A transgender student, who is blurred here in a picture with his mom, experienced mental anguish after being forced to use a separate locker room at school. (Photo: Courtesy of Fox 9)
A transgender student, who is blurred here in a picture with his mom, experienced mental anguish after being forced to use a separate locker room at school. (Photo: Courtesy of Fox 9)

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has filed to join a lawsuit to protect a trans student’s rights, The Christian Post reports.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota and a second advocacy group called Gender Justice originally filed the lawsuit in February against a school district for violating the constitutional and civil rights of LGBTQ students by banning a 17-year-old transgender boy from the boys’ locker room after he’d been using it for months.

The lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the local school board was filed on behalf of the student, who is publicly known as N.H. It claims authorities treated the student differently and deprived him of an “equal and adequate” education, according to local station KARE 11. The boy’s mother, referred to as J.H., claims her son has suffered mental anguish as a result of the discrimination.

“My son was singled out because he is transgender,” J.H. said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

David McKinney, an ACLU of Minnesota attorney, echoed that sentiment, adding that it “violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the rights of equal rights and due process under the Minnesota state constitution.”

The state agrees, and moved to join the suit on Tuesday.

“We filed to join this lawsuit because equal access to public schools for all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, is a civil right protected by the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” Minnesota Department of Human Rights deputy commissioner Irina Vaynerman said in a statement. “School districts should have policies and procedures that enable all students to thrive, free from discrimination. We stand proudly with transgender and gender nonconforming students across the state.”

“Everyone wants to live with dignity and respect,” added Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison. “Being treated equally is one of the most important ways that we achieve that. Transgender people, however, are facing challenge after challenge in being treated equally, including in school. I’m proud to support the Department of Human Rights in making sure that transgender folks live free from discrimination.”

The teen joined the swim team at his school as a freshman in 2015, and used the boys’ locker room “for nearly the entirety of the 2015-16 swim season without incident,” according to court documents.

“The coach and the student athletes on the swim team with N.H. were welcoming to and supportive of N.H.,” and the boy “felt well-liked by teaching staff, administrators, swim coaches and students, and he was doing well academically,” the documents say.

Then, in February 2016, the school called J.H. to let her know her son would not be allowed to use the boys’ locker room going forward. The school board quickly reversed the decision so N.H. could finish out the swim season, but warned him that when it was over, he’d be banned from the boys’ changing facilities. Instead, he’d be put in a separate locker room just for transgender students.

Four days after the decision was made, N.H. was hospitalized for “mental health concerns.” He was then hospitalized a second time “following a public debate during which the Board heard testimony from members of the public affiliated with hate groups,” says the official complaint. His parents ultimately decided it was best for him to change schools.

“[N.H.] was told there would be consequences if he used the locker room with the rest of his classmates,” said Christy Hall, the senior staff attorney for Gender Justice, according to local news outlet Fox 9.

“They went out of their way and created a problem where there wasn’t a problem; they conspired against my son,” added J.H.

In response to the accusations and the lawsuit, Anoka-Hennepin Schools shared the following statement with Yahoo Lifestyle:

“Anoka-Hennepin Schools is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that supports all students and families, including transgender and gender nonconforming students.

“The use of restrooms and locker rooms are determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX coordinator and superintendent in compliance with state and federal law. This approach is consistent with guidance from the National School Boards Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association. Providing privacy for all students is an important consideration.

“Information regarding individual students is considered private student data and the district is not allowed to comment on such information. Anoka-Hennepin is confident our actions conform with state and federal law.”

Updated, March 28 at 11:45 a.m.: This piece has been updated to note the Minnesota Department of Human Rights joining the lawsuit.

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