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ACLU of Ohio seeks to step in on trans restroom federal lawsuit




Photo Credit: Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The American Civil Liberties Union entered their legal opinion on a lawsuit challenging an Ohio school district that allows transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity.

The federal lawsuit involves a 14-year-old girl who is a freshman at Bethel High School. The transgender girl uses the girls communal restroom there, but some parents at the school sued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Western Division to change that.

“Simply put, plaintiffs ask this court to decide where (the student) may use the restroom at her school,” the ACLU wrote in their brief to the court, adding a decision in this case will “directly impact her — in a deeply personal, tangible and potentially harmful manner.”

The Ohio chapter of the ACLU has asked the court to join the lawsuit, standing in opposition to the parents who have asked the court to compel the school to keep transgender students from using the bathroom befitting their gender identity.

“Such an outcome would cause irreparable harm to (this student), not least by endorsing the stigmatizing message that there is something so wrong with transgender students that their mere presence in the same facilities used by their peers is unacceptable,” the ACLU of Ohio said in court documents.

The parents and minor students named in the lawsuit saw the Bethel Local School District Board of Education changed the rule that “biological males and biological females” use “separate intimate facilities” in January 2022, but did so “in secret to avoid community opposition,” thus violating the Ohio Open Meetings Act, according to the lawsuit, filed in November 2022.

The board cited potential Title IX language changes that required the rule change. Though the parents said this wasn’t enough to change the Bethel schools’ rules, they pointed to the Title IX changes in saying “the federal government is trying to use its power to pressure local communities into adopting its policy preferences with threats to federal funding or even prosecution.”

The lawsuit plaintiffs also claim the rule change was in violation of constitutional rights of parents in the district, and violate “the civil rights of religious families, a protected class under its own policies, to favor another group.”

“The board is imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of their faith by placing the children in intimate facilities with members of the opposite biological sex,” the lawsuit stated on behalf of one group of families suing to remove the rule. “Among other things, this directly contradicts their faith on a fundamental moral question and places their children in a situation of compromised modesty.”

The expectation of “sex-segregated” restrooms “is important to the plaintiffs for a variety of reasons including safety, privacy, modesty, religion and historical views of sex,” the filers of the lawsuit told the court.

“The families do not understand why the school respects their beliefs less than the beliefs of the LGBTQ+ community,” they wrote in court documents.

The student has used a girls restroom since January 2022, when she attended Bethel Middle School and received permission from the principal to do so. The ACLU said no “incidents or issues” have been reported caused by her use of the girls bathroom.

Before receiving permission to use the girls restroom, the student used single-occupancy restrooms, which seemed like the “safest and most comfortable” option for her, court documents stated, citing the student and her mother.

“Like many students who come out as transgender, (she) faced severe harassment at her previous school — culminating in a serious physical assault — and learned that for her own safety, and to avoid bullying, (she) needed to avoid using the boys communal restroom,” court documents stated.

But using a single-occupancy restroom “became untenable” as it “outed” the student and opened her up to “humiliation and social stigma,” the ACLU told the court.

Being able to use the girls communal restroom has improved her physical and mental health, according to the organization, with her mother describing her as “a whole different person” whose grades and extracurricular activities have improved and increased.

“Being denied access to the girls’ communal facilities and ordered to use the single-occupancy restrooms would not only be physically harmful to her health, but it would also be mentally and emotionally distressing, humiliating and stigmatizing, and it would impair her ability to fully participate in school life,” the ACLU wrote.

The lawsuit also comes after the Ohio State Board of Education passed a resolution condemning potential federal rule changes to include gender identity and sexual orientation as part of anti-discrimination language. The measure passed in mid-December, despite multiple meetings debating it and hours of public testimony against it.

The court has not ruled on whether or not the ACLU will join the lawsuit. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 7.

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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