The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Vermont middle school coach and his daughter after school officials suspended them for allegedly targeting and misgendering a trans-identified student who entered the girl's locker room.
The legal nonprofit filed a complaint Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Vermont on behalf of Travis Allen and his 14-year-old daughter Blake Allen. The complaint alleges that officials at the Orange Southwest School District and Randolph Union High School violated the pair's First Amendment rights by punishing them for referring to the trans-identified student as a male.
School officials told Blake Allen on Oct. 21 that she bullied a student based on the student's gender identity. She was suspended, told she must participate in a "restorative justice circle" and pen a letter of apology to the student.
Travis Allen, who worked as a middle school girls' soccer coach, was suspended without pay for the rest of the season for similar reasons.
ADF Senior Counsel Phil Sechler, who represents the father and daughter, said that the day after the group filed the lawsuit, the school lifted Blake Allen's suspension. He believes the school rescinded the punishment in light of the ADF's lawsuit.
"But still, we hope the court reinstates Travis and his ability to coach at the school," the attorney told The Christian Post in an interview. "And [we hope the court] also makes it clear that you can express your views on an issue of public importance, and you can call a male a male in the context of that dialogue and not be punished."
The controversy began on Sept. 21, when a 14-year-old male student who identifies as a girl and plays on the daughter's volleyball team entered the locker room while the girls were changing. Blake Allen was reportedly upset and left the locker room.
The next day, Blake Allen complained about the incident to a few fellow students while in French class, saying that the trans-identified teammate is "literally a dude" and that "he does not belong in the girls' locker room."
Another student overheard the conversation and reported Allen to the co-principal's office, which led to the school pursuing disciplinary action against her.
A school official called Allen's parents on Sept. 23 to inform them that the school received information that their daughter had "misgendered" another student, prompting an investigation into whether her comments constituted harassment and bullying.
While the school conducted the investigation, it barred the girls' volleyball team from using the locker room. On Sept. 28, Blake Allen was interviewed by WCAX-TV about the issue, stating that she didn't believe she should be punished for voicing her opinion about not wanting to change near a biological boy.
The article featuring quotes from the student is no longer available online, but a copy of the report is included in the lawsuit.
While the outlet reported that Blake Allen said the trans-identified student made an "inappropriate comment" while the girls were changing, the ADF complaint clarifies that Allen was referring to a separate incident.
Last year, the same trans-identifying student involved in the ADF's current lawsuit allegedly said his "male instincts were kicking in" while in the girls' locker room with two other females. The girls reported the incident to the co-principal, and ADF claims that the school did not pursue the allegation further.
In an interview earlier this month with VTDigger, the mother of the trans-identified student claimed that her child was bullied, and that's why the school launched an investigation. She denied that the girls' volleyball team was uncomfortable with her child's presence in the locker room, purporting that the team has traveled together for weeks without issue.
The mother stated that she and her family have faced harassment on social media following the locker room incident. She also asserted that WCAX's report that her child made an "inappropriate comment" in the girls' locker room was "inaccurate."
Layne Millington, superintendent of the Orange Southwest Supervisory District, also told the outlet that the school's decision to shut down the girls' locker room was not intended to serve as a punishment. Millington claimed the locker rooms were shut down for the students' safety during the investigation, and it "equally" applied to all girls' volleyball team members.
Following Blake Allen's interview with WCAX, the lawsuit alleges that the trans-identified student declared during math class, "I am going to f***ing kill Blake Allen." Blake Allen and the student who overheard the remark reported it, but the school determined the threat was low-risk after an assessment.
WCAX posted the article on its Facebook page, and on Sept. 29, a woman claiming to be the mother of the trans-identified student stated that her "daughter did not make any comments at all." The mother accused Blake Allen of making the story up for "attention."
In response, Travis Allen wrote, "the truth is your son watched my daughter and multiple other girls change in the locker room. While he got a free show, they got violated." Allen then asked the student's mother whether she would feel comfortable if he watched her undress.
The district superintendent suspended Travis Allen without pay because he violated his contract by "misgendering" a student. The coach was suspended after refusing to issue a public apology for his remarks.
Sechler feels that given the context of the discussion, Travis Allen's response to the mother was "reasonable."
"He was sticking up for his daughter," the attorney said." Her concerns about not having to change in front of a male and not having to watch a male change were completely legitimate and were dismissed. And he was supporting those concerns."
Over the last few years, there has been much debate surrounding policies enacted by school districts nationwide that require schools to allow trans-identified students to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity.
Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education approved a new rule requiring public and charter schools to restrict trans-identified youth from using facilities based on gender identity without notifying parents and making a public announcement online.
Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.