A girls’ locker room in a suburban school district outside Chicago is the latest battleground over transgender people’s rights in the United States.
A federal decision is expected as early as Monday on whether Township High School District 211 violated a transgender female student’s rights by barring her from using a girls’ locker room. If so, the school district could lose millions of dollars in education funding.
The school district — which serves students in Schaumburg, Palatine and other suburbs — wants the student, who was born male but identifies as female, to shower and change her clothes in private and for this purpose proposed putting stalls in locker rooms.
The Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education found that the district’s refusal to give transgender students the same access to locker rooms as others is “inadequate and discriminatory.” The school district could lose $6 million in federal funding as a result.
John Knight, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the complaint on behalf of the student, told Al Jazeera that the district is discriminating against the girl in violation of both federal and state laws.
“What they have done is they have singled out my client for shaming,” Knight said. “Now they’ve been proposing ‘we’ll let you in here but only if you agree to dress behind the privacy screen.’ And that tells her: ‘You’re not really a girl, and you should be particularly ashamed of your body.’”
The district’s superintendent, Daniel Cates, wrote in an opinion piece for a local media outlet that federal education officials have “rejected our proposal to have transgender students into our locker rooms along with a reasonable request to shower or change clothes in private.”
He warned in the Oct. 15 piece that the Office of Civil Rights is attempting “to set national policy with a Washington-will that could remove the individualized creative decision-making from school districts everywhere.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she understands that the district views its proposal as a reasonable accommodation. “But the truth is that they are very clearly signaling that these kids are different than all the other kids, and these kids need to be segregated.”
Transgender students are protected under federal Title IX, and some states and school districts also have anti-discrimination policies that cover trans people. California passed Assembly Bill 1266 in 2013, which specifies that students can “use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”
Chicago’s school district last year adopted guidelines for transgender students, the Chicago Tribune reported.