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Trans Student Files Injunction in Federal Case to Use Male Bathroom at Indiana High School

A transgender student filed an injunction in a federal lawsuit to be allowed to use the restroom at his Indiana high school before classes begin.

Referred to in the lawsuit by the initials J.A.W., the plaintiff claims administrators at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. violated his rights under Title IX and the 14th Amendment by refusing to allow him to use the men’s restroom at school with other male students. Instead he is forced to use the female bathrooms or the single-stall facility located in the nurse’s office.

The student claims these options have made him feel “ostracized by his peers,” as the Associated Press originally reported. The nurse’s bathroom is located far away from the majority of his classes and is frequently locked.

If J.A.W. does not follow these policies, he could face discipline by the school district.

The 17-year-old maintains in the lawsuit that students and faculty refer to him by his preferred name and pronouns, and he has been permitted to dress in accordance with his gender identity. Administrators have refused to allow him to use the male facilities, though, until his birth certificate is corrected to reflect his male identity.

J.A.W. was born in the state of Florida, which requires that trans people complete the process of surgery before their birth documents can be updated.

At the time of writing, he doesn’t have any of his identification updated.

But with the new school year set to commence at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. in a couple weeks, the student filed an injunction with Judge William Lawrence of the  U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana to ensure that he’s able to use the bathroom in accordance with his gender identity as the suit progresses.

Lawrence heard the petition Friday.

Claiming the policy has resulted in “harm and distress” for his client, American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Ken Falk said J.A.W. “is a young man and should be treated as such.”

But Evansville administrators maintain they are just following procedure.

Superintendent David Smith, who spoke at the Friday hearing, claimed the district follows an “objective standard” when determining bathroom access, and that standard relies on trans students being able to provide an updated birth certificate. He claimed allowing EVSC to be governed by “subjective” rules would “result in chaos.”

The district’s attorney, Pat Shoulders, agreed.

“Indiana law says we enroll children based on birth certificates,” he told the AP. “Sex is assigned by health authorities. It’s assigned by the motor vehicle department. The school district doesn’t want to be put in a position of second-guessing that or making a decision different than those made by legal authorities.”

Previous courts have generally decided in favor of trans students in lawsuits petitioning for their right to use facilities that align with their sense of self.

In a court case cited by J.A.W.’s attorneys, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a transgender student who filed for a preliminary injunction in a suit against the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin. The district claimed that allowing plaintiff Ash Whitaker to use the men’s bathroom on his school’s campus would violate the privacy of other students.

But in March 2017, a three-judge panel denied a motion to dismiss that injunction, claiming the district “failed to provide any evidence of how the preliminary injunction will harm it, or any of its students or parents.”

Courts in Virginia and Pennsylvania have found similarly.

Lawrence is likely to issue his opinion in the Indiana case by Aug. 8, when the 2018-2019 school session at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. begins. The judge previously declined a motion by EVSC to throw out the case.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.