Current Page: U.S. | Mar 28, 2019
Minnesota sues school district for making trans student use 'enhanced' locker room

Minnesota sues school district for making trans student use 'enhanced' locker room

Students walk past a protest sign on a bathroom which helped lobby for the first gender-neutral restroom in the Los Angeles school district at Santee Education Complex high school in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 18, 2016. | Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is suing a school district that built an “enhanced” locker room to accommodate the privacy needs of a biologically female trans-identified student who's competing on the boys’ swim team.

According to the litigation against the Anoka-Hennepin School District and school board, the student in question joined the boys’ swim team at Coon Rapids High School in the 2015-2016 school year and was allowed to use the boys’ locker room without any issue.

But over the summer of 2016, the district built an “enhanced privacy” boys’ locker room at Coon Rapids that the student was required to use. The enhanced locker room is an entirely separate facility from the main boys’ locker room and the lawsuit alleges that the student was threatened with discipline for not using the locker room.

The lawsuit was filed last month in state court against the school district by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Gender Justice, accusing the school district of violating the Minnesota constitution’s right to due process and equal protection as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, represented by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, filed to join the lawsuit, claiming that the school district’s actions “stigmatized” the student and created a “hostile education environment.”

“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.”  

The Department of Human Rights reports that students have filed multiple claims of discrimination against the Anoka-Hennepin School District related to their sexual orientation and gender identity. The school district was sued in 2011 following a string of LGBT student suicides. It was claimed that the district perpetuated a harmful and toxic environment for LGBT students.

The school district maintains that it acted within the law by providing a “safe and respectful learning environment.”

"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,” the statement reads. “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."

The school district asserts that its approach is “consistent with guidance from the National School Boards Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association.”

"The Minnesota Supreme Court held in Goins v. West Group ‘that the Minnesota Human Rights Act neither requires nor prohibits restroom designation according to self-image of gender or according to biological gender,’” the statement argues. “In permitting the student to use the boys' restrooms and locker room consistent with his gender identity, the district surpassed what Minnesota law prescribes. The court’s decision in Goins is consistent with the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s provisions governing discriminatory practices in places of public accommodation.”

“Under the Act, it is an unfair discriminatory practice ‘to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation because of,’ among other things, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘sex,’” the statement continues. “This provision does not apply, however, ‘to such facilities as restrooms, locker rooms, and other similar places.’”

The Anoka-Hennepin School District case is the second transgender-related discrimination lawsuit that the state has filed this month. A lawsuit was filed against CSL Plasma, a collection center, for denying a biologically male trans-identified woman the right to donate his plasma because of his gender identity.

However, the company maintains that it acted lawfully.

“CSL Plasma policies have evolved since the FDA updated its guidance on donor suitability in December 2015. Since that time, CSL Plasma has put in place policies that support self-identification based on gender preference,” a statement from the company reads in part. “The state has made no efforts to discuss this matter with us in advance of filing its complaint.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called for Ellison, the former deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, to investigate USA Powerlifting over its policy barring biologically male transgender athletes from competing in women's sports. 

USA Powerlifting defended its policies.

“Men naturally have a larger bone structure, higher bone density, stronger connective tissue and higher muscle density than women,” an online statement from the organization reads. “These traits, even with reduced levels of testosterone do not go away. While [male-to-female] may be weaker and [have] less muscle than they once were, the biological benefits given them at birth still remain over than of a female.”

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