ACLU sues Missouri school district for transgender bathroom policy

Lawsuit alleges Platte County School District discriminated against transgender teen

By: - August 1, 2023 2:23 pm

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The ACLU of Missouri is suing the Platte County School District for banning transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Platte County Circuit Court, says the district’s policy discriminates on the basis of sex, transgender status and disability — violating the Missouri Human Rights Act and the state’s constitution.

“Forcing transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their sex designated at birth is not only discrimination but dangerous and causes serious harm to Missouri’s youth,” Gillian Wilcox, deputy director of litigation at the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 16-year-old transgender girl, referred to as R.F. in the petition, who attended Platte County High School in Platte City from September 2021 to December 2022.

R.F. realized she was female at the age of 6 or 7, the lawsuit states, and, by her freshman year of high school in 2021, was taking puberty blockers and was living as a female.

School staff told her she couldn’t use the girls’ restrooms at the high school but had to use the restrooms that matched her sex as assigned at birth or the one gender-neutral, single-stall restroom on campus.

R.F. was told by a PCSD employee that using the restroom of the gender with which she identified (female) was against the law, although no specific law was referenced or provided to R.F.,” the lawsuit alleges.

The only gender-neutral restroom was not near R.F.’s classes, the petition says, and lines formed to use it. R.F. was late to class and talked to teachers about her tardiness.

She used the girls’ restrooms located throughout the school and received a verbal warning in late November 2021. On Dec. 9, 2021, she had one day of in-school suspension as punishment for continuing to use the girls’ restrooms, and she received a two-day out-of-school suspension Jan. 5, 2022.

About a week after her suspension, she used the boys’ restroom and saw a boy point at her and threaten to sexually assault her, the lawsuit states. The encounter made her afraid to use the boys restrooms and attend the high school.

R.F. missed three weeks of school afterward. She attempted to return, but her peers harassed her and continued to make her feel unsafe, according to the lawsuit. Administrators then approved virtual learning for her to complete the school year.

R.F. returned to school in-person the fall of 2022 but delayed signing up for gym class because she was banned from the locker room that matched her gender identity.

The treatment she received from school district staff and students caused “emotional harm, depression and anxiety,” according to the petition.

Platte County School District Superintendent Jay Harris told The Independent that the district was “just made aware” of the lawsuit.

“The district is in the early stages of evaluating the legal claims,” he wrote in an email. “The district’s focus is, and has always been, providing a safe and caring environment for all students.”

The ACLU’s argument says that R.F. belongs to protected classes as a transgender girl diagnosed with gender dysphoria and the school district denied her “full and equal enjoyment” of public facilities by treating her differently.

“Gender identity is a core, defining trait so fundamental to one’s identity and conscience that a person cannot legitimately be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment,” Wilcox wrote in the petition.

On behalf of R.F., her parent filed a charge of discrimination in April 2022 with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. The commission issued a notice of the right to sue, over a year later, on May 10.

The lawsuit says transgender Missourians “have a long history of discrimination” continuing to the present day. It references the most recent legislative session, where bills passed limiting the rights of transgender Missourians.

The ACLU of Missouri is challenging one of the new laws, a ban on minors beginning gender-affirming care, in Cole County. R.F., who has already started gender-affirming care, can continue her current treatment.

The other law will restrict transgender athletes from competing in sports according to their gender identity. The legislation does not explicitly limit which locker room athletes can use.

The new legislation will take effect August 28.


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.