A private school in Orange County, California, is being sued by the parents of an 8-year-old biological boy who claim that the school violated a state discrimination law by refusing to change its policies so that their child could be treated like a girl.
The parents of Nikki Shah-Brar have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Heritage Oak Private School in Yorba Linda after it failed to swiftly change its policies so that their child could wear a girl's uniform and access girls' bathrooms, among other things.
The lawsuit, which was filed last Wednesday, claimed that the private secular school advertised itself as nondiscriminatory but did not treat Shah-Brar in accordance with her gender identity.
The lawsuit accuses the school of denying Shah-Brar's request to wear a girl's uniform and be called by her preferred name and pronoun. Additionally, the school is accused of preventing Shah-Brar from using the girl's bathroom, forcing the student to use staff bathrooms instead of the boys' room.
The Orange County Register reports that Shah-Brar began showing preferences for toys and activities associated with the female gender at an early age and exhibited a preference to wear female clothing.
The lawsuit notes that Shah-Brar explained to her mother, Priya Shah, who taught college courses in gender and transgender theory, in 2016 that she has felt like a girl for a "long time."
According to the lawsuit, Shah reacted to her son's announcement that he was a girl by thinking of one transgender student she had taught who had committed suicide.
"When Nikki came to Priya to tell her she was a girl, Priya thought of the student she had lost and affirmed to herself that she would keep her own child safe and supported," the lawsuit reads.
Shah-Brar's parents quickly found their child a therapist, who encouraged the parents to affirm their child's gender identity.
Shah-Brar's parents enrolled her in Heritage Oak in the 2016-2017 school year before they felt forced to remove her from the school and homeschool her for the rest of the year because the school wouldn't accommodate the family's request that Shah-Brar be treated like a girl.
The lawsuit claims that in response to Shah's request for her child to be treated like a girl, the school told the parents that it is a "conservative institution" and that allowing the biological male child to identify as a girl would "create an imbalance."
Because the child's gender identity was not being affirmed at school in the same way it was at home and elsewhere, the lawsuit claims that the student began feeling depressed, "talked about self-harm" and wouldn't play with other kids at recess.
The family is being represented by the pro-bono law firm Public Counsel.
Although the Shah-Brar is now enrolled in a public school, Kathryn Eidmann, an attorney with the Public Counsel told the Register that the Shah-Brar case was filed under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and demands that the school not only change its policy but pay damages.
Eidmann explained that this case is one of the first cases in which a private school is being sued for violating the state's discrimination law protecting gender identity.
"This case sends the message that in California we don't tolerate this type of discrimination," she said.
Kerry Owens, a spokesperson for the school's parent company Nobel Learning, explained in a statement the reason why the school was unable to accommodate the elementary student's request in a timely fashion when it had previously accommodated the request of transgender high school students.
"We believed it was extremely important to respond, not hastily, but with deliberate care, to decide when and how to inform and educate our entire elementary school community of students, staff and parents about the mid-year change of gender identity expression of a young child," the statement reads. "Due to the sensitivity of the issue and age of the child, we believed we needed expert guidance regarding timing (such as, preparing children for a change they would see in spring semester of second grade and fall semester of third grade), process and age-appropriate communication."
Should the school suffer a defeat in the lawsuit, it could cause concerns for other private schools in California, especially Christian and religious-based ones, which might not want to compromise on religious teachings about gender to accommodate such requests from transgender children.
Ryan Anderson, a conservative author and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told The Christian Post in a statement Monday that "the government should not be allowed to impose a transgender agenda on schools."
"A school that seeks to foster the truth about the body should not be at risk due to activist lawsuits," Anderson stated.