Oregon Court Throws Out Federal Bathroom Lawsuit Targeting Trans Students

A federal court tossed out a lawsuit challenging a rural Oregon school’s policy of affirming bathroom access for transgender students.

Complainants allege that a Dallas School District policy allowing trans and gender non-conforming youth to use the bathroom or locker room which most closely corresponds with their gender identity discriminates against cisgender students in the district. The lawsuit claims students experience “ongoing anxiety, fear, and apprehension” at the threat of being forced to share facilities with trans students.

But on Wednesday, Judge Marco A. Hernandez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ruled the suit lacks legal standing — as the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate tangible harms resulting from the district’s policy.

In 2015, the Dallas School District — located 60 miles south of Portland — first made headlines when it sent a letter to parents claiming administrators would allow trans student Elliot Yoder to use the boys’ bathroom at school. Yoder, then just 14, had been using a gender-neutral bathroom on campus, but the facility was two floors away from the locker rooms used by other male students.

The student claimed the cross-campus trek alienated him from other students, as it would signal to them that he’s not like other boys at school, so much so that he needs to be physically separated from them.

Although critics said allowing Yoder to use the bathroom with other male students violated their privacy, Yoder has maintained the opposite is true.

“I never fully undress,” he has previously claimed. “I don’t shower with them. I don’t even look at any of them. I don’t look at the person whose locker is directly below mine. I’m not in there to spy on your kids. I’m not in there for any other reason but to change in a place that is not completely separate from everybody else.”

“When a transgender student is using the facilities that match their gender identity, the only person’s privacy that is being interrupted is their own because of everyone else’s concerns about it,” the student added.

Nonetheless, parents of three current and former students at Dallas School District filed suit to overturn the policy. In court documents, they allege the guidelines are in violation of a total of eight statutes — including the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Herb Grey, one of several attorneys representing the plaintiffs in court, alleged the district committed an act of overreach.

“The key to this whole thing is not just the privacy and the rights of just one student,” Grey claimed. “It’s the rights of all the students and their parents and you can’t interpret federal law and state law and impose it on everyone else and say you’re accommodating everyone — because you’re not accommodating everyone.”

Their attorneys called on the state of Oregon to enact “reasonable accommodations” to meet the needs of all students. The state is one of 20 with statewide laws in place protecting trans people from discrimination.

But Hernandez dismissed every single one of the plaintiff’s claims in a 56-page decision, noting that there have been zero instances of harassment resulting from the policy.

The complaint “lacks any allegation relating to [the district’s] actions,” he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union — one of several advocacy groups that fought in court on behalf of the trans-affirming guidelines — celebrated the victory as one of a series of wins for transgender students’ rights.

“The judge understood that transgender students just using restrooms and lockers like everyone else does not violate anyone’s rights,” claimed ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Gabriel Arkles in a statement. “In fact, it would violate students’ rights to keep them out of the facilities their peers use just because they are transgender.”

“These cases are a part of a nationwide trend targeting transgender young people, and we are proud to defend students’ safety, dignity, and access to education,” he continued.

“All students deserve a safe and accepting learning environment, regardless of gender identity,” added Mat dos Santos, legal director at the Oregon affiliate of the ACLU, in a press release. “We know that when transgender youth are allowed to show up as their true selves, they thrive and make meaningful contributions to the community. This makes schools better for everyone.”

As the ACLU notes, every single federal court case over facility access for trans students has sided in favor of their right to be affirmed by their gender identity. Earlier this year, Gavin Grimm won a years-long court battle to use the men’s bathroom at his now-former Virginia high school.

Court cases in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have reached similar conclusions.

But the Dallas School District case isn’t the only battle being fought over trans student rights in the state of Oregon. Summer Eastwood, the mother of a 15-year-old sophomore at Sutherlin High School, is suing the district after a transgender male student entered the bathroom while her son was peeing.

Although Eastwood’s son, identified as T.B., was not harmed during the brief interaction, he allegedly experienced “tremendous anxiety” as a result.

“The desire to shield one’s unclothed body parts — genitalia in particular — from the view of strangers, especially those of the opposite sex, is driven by one’s innate self-respect and desire for personal dignity,” the complaint alleged.

That case is currently pending in the Douglas County Circuit Court.

image via Basic Rights Oregon

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