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Transgender students win legal battles

Sexuality | Two recent settlements have schools paying families and changing policies
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 8/11/17, 03:39 pm

Two schools accused of discrimination against transgender students recently resorted to payout settlements and policy changes. The settlements do not bode well for schools that maintain traditional policies on gender, gender transitions, and restroom use.

Nova Classical Academy, a charter school in St. Paul, Minn., agreed Monday to adopt a far-reaching gender inclusion policy and pay a child’s parents $120,000. The agreement ended a 16-month legal battle initiated in 2016 by David and Hannah Edwards, the parents of a then-kindergartener who was born a boy but wanted to identify as a girl.

The Edwardses argued the school failed to protect their child from “persistent gender-based bullying and hostility.” After agreeing to a plan for the child’s “social gender transition” at school, Nova administrators informed the Edwardses that they wanted first to notify the parents in the class and allow them to opt out of having the information shared with their kindergarteners.

The Edwardses withdrew their child and sued for discrimination.

Under the terms of the settlement, Nova agreed to a new gender inclusion policy, including key provisions requiring the school to “adhere to parent’s/student’s timeline for social transition” and stating the school cannot allow families to “opt out of any information or instruction necessary to create a safe and affirming school environment during the transition process.” The policy specifically noted Nova parents cannot opt out for religious or conscience objections.

Another settlement finalized last week involved three transgender students in a Pittsburgh-area school district. The students sued the Pine-Richland School District over a restroom policy requiring students to use either unisex restrooms or the restroom that matches their biological sex.

According to the settlement, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the district agreed to pay each student $20,000 and attorney fees, rescind the previous restroom policy, and update its nondiscriminatation policy to include gender identity.

In February, a Pennsylvania federal judge ordered the district to allow the students to use the restrooms of their choice while the lawsuit proceeded. Judge Mark Hornak said the students were likely to win the case on equal protection grounds and dismissed claims that allowing transgender students in opposite-sex restrooms was a privacy violation.

And the lawsuits continue.

Last week, a transgender 8-year-old and the student’s parents sued an Orange County, Calif., private school for preventing free gender expression. The suit alleges the school, Heritage Oak Private Education, did not adequately support second-grader Nicole Brar, who was born a boy.

The school maintains it was working with parents Priya Shah and Jaspret Brar and an outside consultant to initiate a plan for a midyear gender identity change.

“Unfortunately, these accommodations were rejected, and the parents withdrew their child,” said the school.

The Brar family said the school refused to allow Nicole to wear the girls uniform, to use the girls restroom, and to be called by female pronouns.

The complaint demands the school pay damages for emotional distress and discrimination and more than $10,000 in school tuition and fees, as well as adopt a nondiscrimination policy toward transgender students, train staff in the policy, and incorporate transgender identity into its student curriculum.

The Brar case is important because it expands the scope of these lawsuits: This complaint is against a private school and alleges the business, not the government, violated state antidiscrimination laws and fraudulently advertised it would care for the “whole child.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin A demonstration in support of transgender military members July 26 on Capitol Hill

Transgender service members sue

Two LGBT advocacy organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people in the military.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on behalf of five unnamed transgender service members, argues a ban is unconstitutional because it denies transgender individuals equal protection and due process.

Trump’s July 26 tweets announcing the policy said the government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military” because of “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”

Following the tweets, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military would not act on the tweets but instead would wait for a formal order by the president.

Just a few weeks before the tweets, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the government was delaying the implementation of an Obama-era policy allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the military. He said the leadership needed more time to evaluate the policy’s effects.

Transgender members already in the military have been free to serve openly since June 2016.

“The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests,” reads the complaint, filed jointly by the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

But some within the LGBT community are siding with a ban. Jamie Shupe, a transgender military veteran who retired from the U.S. Army as a sergeant first class and who was the first person in the United States to have their gender legally declared nonbinary, published an editorial last week laying out the “problems with transgender military service.” —K.C.

Associated Press/Photo by Joseph Nair Associated Press/Photo by Joseph Nair Malcolm Turnbull

Mail-in ballots

Same-sex marriage advocates in Australia are fighting a government decision earlier this week to host a national, nonbinding mail ballot to gauge public opinion on gay marriage. The so-called postal plebiscite is scheduled to begin next month. Australia’s government has said it will not legalize same-sex marriage without the support of a majority of Australian citizens.

But LGBT activists are pushing back. On Thursday, an independent lawmaker and two same-sex marriage advocates filed a court challenge to the government’s plan. They asked the High Court for an injunction to prevent the postal plebiscite—something they consider an unnecessary hurdle—from going forward, arguing that all major polls show broad support for gay marriage among Australians and that Parliament should legislate the issue now without a national vote.

But Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the postal ballot would withstand a court challenge.

“I encourage every Australian to exercise their right to vote on this matter,” Turnbull said. “It’s an important question.”

Another option—a mandatory postal vote held like a general election—was struck down by the Australian Senate on Wednesday.

That option would have ensured a broad response. Instead, with a voluntary ballot, critics argue only those with strong opinions on either side will respond. And some have said young people will be notably underrepresented because they are less familiar with the mail system.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, still a government lawmaker, is publicly campaigning against same-sex marriage.

“I say to you: If you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote ‘no.’ If you worry about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, vote ‘no.’ And if you don’t like political correctness, vote ‘no’ because this is the best way to stop it in its tracks,” Abbott said Wednesday.

If the plebiscite shows most Australians want same-sex marriage, Parliament plans to vote on the issue Dec. 7. —K.C.

Choose-your-own-gender camp

Enrollment at a San Francisco–based summer day camp for transgender children has tripled since it opened three years ago. Rainbow Day Camp in El Cerrito, Calif., one of the only camps in the world for transgender children as young as preschool, had 60 transgender or “gender fluid” children enrolled this summer. The growth means its leadership is planning to open a branch in Colorado next summer with more states in view.

Children at the camp choose their names and pronouns each day and can change their minds day-to-day depending on what feels right.

The spike in children going to Rainbow mirrors a wider trend: An increasing number of children are identifying as the opposite gender at a young age. One example: Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles started a center for transgender youth over a decade ago with 40 patients. Now there are more than 900, with 150 on the waitlist. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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