Transgender teen sues Wisconsin school district over restroom use, alleged discrimination

A transgender student filed a lawsuit against a Wisconsin school district Tuesday, alleging that the district won’t let him use the boys’ restrooms and repeatedly uses his female birth name, violating federal anti-discrimination laws and the U.S. Constitution.

The Transgender Law Center and the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane and Colfax PLLC filed the federal lawsuit in Milwaukee against the Kenosha school district. The filing states Ashton Whitaker, a 16-year-old student at Tremper High School, was designated a girl on his birth certificate but began identifying as a boy in middle school.

The suit claims the district denied him access to boys’ restroom facilities and directed staff to monitor his restroom usage, forcing him and other transgender students to wear green wristbands to help staff recognize them. As a result, Whitaker drastically reduced his liquid intake, aggravating a medical condition that causes him to faint, and suffered stress migraines, according to the lawsuit.

Teachers also continue to call Whitaker by his female birth name, he had to room with girls on an orchestra trip to Europe and the principal initially denied him the ability to run for junior prom king. School officials relented only after his classmates protested, the lawsuit stated.

The district's actions violate Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as the Constitution's equal protection guarantees, the lawsuit argues.

"Transgender youth are struggling with the issue of their identity, but if they're not received well by people around them, then they can have additional psychological problems and so this has been very stressful for him," Rock Pledl, Whitaker's attorney said, according to Fox 6 Milwaukee.

"The degree to which the administration has just continued to harass him over and over and raising the stakes when you'd think it'd be the opposite. You'd think they'd be looking for a way to make his life at that high school more pleasant."

Whitaker said in a news release that the district's actions have made his life miserable and he's worried about how he'll navigate his upcoming senior year.

An attorney for the Kenosha district said Wednesday he is certain the district will win the lawsuit.

"The district is confident that when the litigation process establishes accurate facts and applies them to the proper legal standards, its policies and practices will be found to be in total compliance with all laws," Ron Stadler said in an email sent by the district's communication director to Kenosha News.

Wisconsin is one of the states suing President Barack Obama’s administration over its directive to public schools to let transgender students use the facilities that correspond to their gender identity. Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin tried to pass a bill during the 2015-16 legislative session that would have made it the first state in the nation to force public school students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their birth gender. The measure went nowhere.

The Kenosha district responded to the lawsuit in a statement to Fox 6 Milwaukee.

"Kenosha Unified was recently made aware of the lawsuit filed against the District alleging discrimination against a transgender student.  The district and its legal counsel are reviewing the complaint and all of the allegations asserted in the complaint,” the district said.

“Even a cursory review of the complaint shows that some of the factual allegations are patently false. The district does not have a practice or policy requiring any student to wear a wristband for monitoring any purpose or for any reason whatsoever. The district has worked diligently with transgender students and their families to address their unique needs and accommodations, including the family named in the suit."

At least 13 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in schools. Hundreds of school districts, from Anchorage, Alaska, and Tucson, Arizona, to Fairfax County, Virginia and Chicago, have adopted similar protections.

At least two other transgender students have filed lawsuits similar to Whitaker's seeking the right to use boys' bathrooms and locker rooms.

Gavin Grimm filed a lawsuit in Virginia seeking to use boys' bathroom at his high school. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Grimm in April. The school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

A 14-year-old Maryland middle school student filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday alleging school officials have barred him from using the boys' restrooms and locker rooms.

On the other side of the issue, dozens of families sued in May seeking to stop Township High School District 211 in suburban Chicago from allowing a transgender girl from using the girls' locker room.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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