Lambda Legal and Indiana Youth Group Move to Join Lawsuit to Protect Transgender Students

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August 22, 2019
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Today, Lambda Legal filed legal papers on behalf of Indiana Youth Group (IYG) to join a lawsuit in a case before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to protect the interests of transgender students from attack by a teacher who sued the Brownsburg Community School Corporation after officials asked him to refer to transgender students in his classroom accurately by their full names, as requested by their parents and recorded in the school’s database.

IYG, a non-profit organization, is seeking to intervene to protect students and ensure a healthy environment for LGBTQ youth in Indiana and in its capacity as the managing organization of the Indiana GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) Network, of which the Brownsburg High School GSA is a member.

“Transgender students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their teachers and enjoy a safe learning environment, just like anyone else,” said Lambda Legal Counsel and Students’ Rights Strategist, Paul Castillo.

“For transgender students, that means affirming their gender identities by using the names and pronouns that are authentic to them. Educators occupy an important place in the lives of all students, so when they devalue or render invisible their students’ gender identities, it signals to the rest of the student body that it’s ok to bully and disrespect their transgender peers.” 

Prior to the start of class in 2017, the Brownsburg school district formulated a policy instructing teachers to refer to students using the names recorded in the school’s “Power School” database, which allows parents of transgender students, with the approval of a health care professional, to enter a name for their child that is consistent with their gender identity.

Claiming a religious objection, teacher John Kluge refused to refer to several transgender students in his class by their names because he believed the names did not match their birth-assigned sex. After complaints from students about Kluge referring to students exclusively by last names in order to bypass the requirements, Kluge resigned as he was unwilling to follow school policy.

Kluge sued the school district and is seeking reinstatement and an injunction prohibiting the district from enforcing the policy in question, among other things.

“It is IYG’s mission to ensure that all LGBTQ young people in Indiana are seen, respected, and safe,” said Chris Paulsen, chief executive officer of IYG. “Dismissing a transgender person’s identity has deeply harmful and potentially dangerous effects. Young people whose gender identities are not respected have increased rates of depression and suicide. However, when they are supported by their teachers and are allowed to be their true selves, they thrive, and that is something that all young people deserve.”

Indiana Youth Group (IYG) is responsible for managing the Indiana GSA Network, an association of more than 50 youth-led organizations that works to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth and to address anti-LGBTQ harassment and discrimination. At Brownsburg High School, the student-run GSA is known as the “Equality Alliance” and the club is a member of the Indiana GSA Network. IYG has worked directly with the Brownsburg Equality Alliance and its student members since 2011, and students from the Brownsburg Equality Alliance regularly participate in IYG’s programs.

“My son gets to decide who he is, not his teacher,” said Laura Sucec, mother of a former student of Kluge who spoke out about the teacher’s disrespect toward transgender students. “I am frustrated and hurt that Mr. Kluge feels that he can deride and humiliate my son for his identity, depriving him of his dignity and humanity in front of his peers. My son and all transgender people deserve to be supported, not rejected or dismissed.”

Indiana Youth Group is represented by Lambda Legal attorneys Paul D. Castillo, Camilla B. Taylor and Taylor Brown. They are joined by pro bono counsel Barbara Baird of the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird in Indianapolis, Indiana, as well as D. Jean Veta, Henry Liu, William Isasi, Isaac Belfer, Elizabeth Baia, and Komal Shah at Covington & Burling, LLP.