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Evansville schools face lawsuit over transgender student bathroom use

A transgender teenager in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation is suing the district in federal court after he was denied the right to use the men’s restroom.

The student, whose sex was designated female at birth, has been transitioning to outwardly express his male gender identity since age 12, according to court documents. He is now a junior in high school, and he uses a male name, pronouns and looks traditionally masculine in dress and appearance. 

He requested multiple times to use the men’s restroom at school, and administrators told him to either use the women’s restroom or the restroom in the nurse’s office.

The lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana under Title IX, argues using the restroom in the nurse’s office is not viable, given the bathroom’s distant location from some classrooms and that it is often closed when the nurse must leave the office.

The suit states forcing the student to use this restroom also singles him out.

“Use of it would emphasize to both him and to the school community that he is ‘different’ than everyone else and would undermine his transition,” the lawsuit states.

The student drinks less to avoid needing to use the restroom, according to court documents, something about one-third of the transgender population does regularly, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.

When the student used the women’s restroom out of necessity, it “made him feel extremely uncomfortable and has caused him depression and other emotional difficulties.”

Locally, Monroe County Community School Corporation spokesman Andrew Clampitt said all students at Bloomington High School North and Bloomington High School South can also use any of the four gender-neutral bathrooms in each school. 

The restrooms are in various locations throughout the buildings.

“We want those folks to feel comfortable,” Clampitt said. “We wouldn’t want gender identification to cause something to get in the way of someone’s education.”

In 2016, a transgender student from Wisconsin filed a nearly identical lawsuit to the Evansville lawsuit. He was also denied the right to use the men’s restroom by his school, forced instead to use either the women’s restroom or a distant gender-neutral restroom. 

The school argued allowing transgender individuals to use restrooms that don’t match the sex on their birth certificates violated the privacy rights of other students, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers both Indiana and Wisconsin, ruled in the student’s favor in May.

“A transgender student's presence in the restroom provides no more of a risk to other students' privacy rights than the presence of an overly curious student of the same biological sex who decides to sneak glances at his or her classmates,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote in the circuit's opinion. “Or for that matter, any other student who uses the bathroom at the same time.”

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