It's time that Anoka-Hennepin, and all school districts across Minnesota, adopt policies and practices that truly ensure a safe and equitable environment for all students -- including transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender diverse students.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District is once against charged with violating the constitutional and civil rights of LGBTQ students. In a new lawsuit filed Monday morning in Minnesota's Tenth District Court, Gender Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the law firm Stinson Leonard Street, working pro bono, asserted that Anoka-Hennepin School District violated the state Constitution's right to due process and equal protection and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by treating transgender student N.H. differently than other students and failing to provide him with an equal education.
"Every child who goes to high school should have the opportunity to get a good education, to be an athlete and participate in extracurricular activities," said his mother J.H. "They should never have to question their safety based on their identity."
"Discrimination is wrong," she said. "It's important to me to do this - to file this lawsuit - to be a voice for the voiceless. Children don't make legislation. They can't run on school boards. There are many children out there whose parent isn't willing to stand where I am right now. There are many children who are flying under the radar because they can't afford to be out."
The school district and its school board barred the student - who had joined the boys' swimming team and used the boys' locker room matching his gender identity for months without incident - from using the locker room. N.H. was singled out and forced to instead use segregated changing facilities no other student was required to use, which led to bullying and threats to him and his mother.
"Allowing N.H. to use the same locker rooms as other boys is the only way to provide him with equal access to education, programming and extracurricular activities like sports," said ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney. "Instead, the school board and school district chose to discriminate against him and ostracize him based on his gender identity and treat him like a second-class citizen."
“The stakes in this case are high and all too real,” said Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson. “Nearly three percent of Minnesota students identify as transgender or gender diverse.
“Treating them fairly - including having them use facilities that match their gender identity - decreases their risk of depression and anxiety,” Peterson said. “Transgender students are two to three times more likely to experience daily verbal and physical harassment, and more than half attempt suicide. As adults, we have an obligation to protect these kids. Anoka-Hennepin School District has a legal duty to protect its students.”
Anoka-Hennepin School District's stigmatizing segregation of N.H. was unconstitutional and unnecessary. Transgender people are explicitly protected from discrimination, including when using restrooms and locker rooms, in 21 states plus Washington D.C.; more than 225 cities and counties; and in school districts covering millions of students. None of these laws have resulted in an increase in violence or other public safety incidents.
Anoka-Hennepin School District's policy directly contradicts guidance about the equal treatment of transgender students from the Minnesota Department of Education.
Read the complaint filed today here.