A Wisconsin school district has reached a settlement in the case of a transgender student who alleges rampant discrimination at his former high school.
The Kenosha Unified District will pay out $800,000 to Ash Whitaker, who claims administrators at Tremper High School barred him from using the men’s restroom at school. In one of the more startling accusations made in case filings, the 18-year-old says staffers forced him to wear a green wristband to make him easier to identify.
The district, which continues to deny the numerous, detailed claims made by Whitaker, decided to settle the case to avoid further legal action. The school came to its decision Tuesday night following a 5 to 2 vote.
Whitaker, who is currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, celebrated the long overdue resolution of his case.
“I am deeply relieved that this long, traumatic part of my life is finally over and I can focus on my future and simply being a college student,” he claimed in a statement provided to members of the media. “Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically.”
“My message to other trans kids is to respect themselves and accept themselves and love themselves,” he continued. “If someone’s telling you that you don’t deserve that, prove them wrong.”
Although Whitaker graduated from Tremper in June, his alma mater will allow him to use the men’s facilities on campus should he return as an alumnus. The board has stated, however, that Tuesday’s decision does not apply to its policies on transgender students currently enrolled in schools under its purview.
But given the prior judgments against the district in federal court, this is unlikely to be the last word on the issue.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that the district had unlawfully discriminated against Whitaker under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It was the first federal court to rule that trans people are protected under civil rights law within the context of “sex discrimination,” one of several identity categories enumerated in the nearly five-decade-old law.
Those findings upheld an earlier ruling favorable to the plaintiff.
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, claims in a statement that Tuesday’s settlement is yet another indication that the precedent set by the 7th Circuit is “definitive.” The Oakland-based advocacy organization was one of three firms representing Whitaker in court.
“Schools cannot single students out because they are trans,” says Hayashi. “Period.”
As the Trans Law Center claimed in case filings, the Kenosha school district targeted Whitaker by “invasively monitoring his restroom use, referring to him by female pronouns in front of other students, initially denying him the right to run for junior prom king, and forcing him to room by himself during a week-long orchestra camp.”
The student alleges that as a result, he stopped going to the restroom in school altogether.