51 families sue Illinois school district for giving transgender student access to girls’ locker room

© Lucy Nicholson
Dozens of families have filed a lawsuit against an Illinois school district and the federal government, alleging that their children’s privacy was violated when transgender students were granted access to the bathrooms of the gender they identify with.

The lawsuit revolves around a case involving a transgender student who identifies as female at Township High School in Illinois’ District 211. The district was forced to allow the pupil to use the girls’ locker room by the US Department of Education, which threatened to withhold the district’s federal funding if it didn’t. The agency said the district was violating Title IX by discriminated against the student based on sex.

The district ultimately complied with the federal government, but now 51 families are suing. The new lawsuit names the district itself, as well as the Education Department and the Justice Department.

“Protecting students from inappropriate exposure to the opposite sex is not only perfectly legal, it’s a school district’s duty,” read a statement from Jeremy Tedesco, Senior Counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the families.

“Allowing boys into girls’ locker rooms, a setting where girls are often partially or fully unclothed, is a blatant violation of student privacy. The school district should rescind its privacy-violating policies, and the court should order the Department of Education to stop bullying school districts with falsehoods about what federal law requires,” it continued.

The lawsuit asks the court to block implementation of the district’s new policy and declare it unconstitutional, claiming that Title IX has been illegally redefined by the Education Department, as the law states that schools are allowed to “provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex.”

“No government agency can unilaterally redefine the meaning of a federal law to serve its own political ends,” added ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp, adding “The Department of Education is exceeding what it is legally and constitutionally allowed to do. In fact, at least five other federal and state courts have rejected the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX.”

According to the Education Department, the transgender student in question has identified as a girl from a young age, is recognized as a girl by the school, plays on a girls’ sports team, and has access to the school’s female restrooms. When she sought access to the girls’ locker room, however, the district said it could not allow it due to the privacy concerns for other students.

For its part, the district is standing by the agreement it reached with the federal government.

“We have implemented the agreement without any reports of incident or issue,” said District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Our students have shown acceptance, support and respect of each other. Individual changing stalls in our locker rooms are readily available to every student and further accommodations that provide even greater privacy remain available upon request.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which filed a complaint on behalf of the student back in 2013, criticized the lawsuit as discriminatory.

“Today’s lawsuit is a sad development by groups opposed to fair and humane treatment of all students, including those who are transgender,” Ed Yohnka, communications and public policy director for ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “We expect that today’s lawsuit will meet the same unsuccessful end as the previous efforts to peddle fear and divisiveness.”

The suit comes as the battle over transgender bathroom use intensifies. One flashpoint has come in the form of bathroom policy at the retailer Target, which recently announced that it would allow its employees and customers to use the restroom or fitting room that “corresponds with their gender identity.”

“We believe that everyone – every team member, every guest, and every community – deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally,” the company wrote in a statement. “Consistent with this belief, Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination.”

The move has been praised by transgender rights supporters and criticized by opponents who say the policy enables voyeurism and encourages sexual predators. In response, the American Family Association launched a petition calling for a boycott of Target that has amassed almost 1.2 million signatures.

Protests have been reported at various Target stores over the bathroom policy. A 39-year-old man from Illinois was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling at and frightening people at a local Target while expressing his displeasure with it, the Daily Journal reported.

Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the company to detail exactly how it plans to protect women and children in light of the new policy.