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Transgender Public School Students Sue to Block Discriminatory Oklahoma School Facilities Law

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September 7, 2022
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Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Oklahoma (ACLU-OK), and pro-bono co-counsel Covington & Burling LLP late yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), three Oklahoma public school districts, one public charter school, and numerous government officials for implementing and enforcing a new school facilities access law that singles out transgender students for discriminatory treatment. 

"Oklahoma has launched another cruel and unconstitutional attack on a most-vulnerable population – transgender school children,” said Nicholas Guillory, Staff Attorney and Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “This is not the first such attack on transgender schoolchildren, and sadly it will likely not be the last. It is sad that anti-transgender state legislators nationwide keep singling out transgender students for harmful, discriminatory treatment, notwithstanding that we and our allies have successfully quashed these efforts wherever they have popped up.” 

Oklahoma Senate Bill 615 passed the Oklahoma legislature and was quickly signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May. The law requires all pre-K through 12th grade public schools and public charter schools to restrict the use of multiple occupancy restrooms and other facilities at school based on the sex listed on an individual’s original birth certificate. It further requires each school board and charter school governing board to create a policy for discipline of those who violate the restriction and requires OSDE to penalize schools that do not comply with this requirement with a five percent reduction in state funding. The complaint charges that S.B. 615 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, by discriminating on the basis of sex, gender identity, and transgender status.  

“There is no valid reason to prohibit transgender students from using the same facilities as their peers. Doing so is stigmatizing and damaging. It interferes with their ability to learn at school and can lead to physical harms as well. No problems have arisen in schools that allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender. It is time for politicians to stop using young people who are transgender as a wedge issue for political gain,” said Jon Davidson, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU.  

“Transgender students live and go to school in our state. They use public facilities just like everyone else, and their presence harms no one,” said Hanna Roberts, ACLU of Oklahoma Staff Attorney. “But this election year has been overrun with attacks on our youth and their ability to feel safe while receiving an inclusive education. Transgender people are part of our families, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods, and they, like everyone else, need to be able to safely access restrooms. Not only does promoting these baseless fears for political gain put our most vulnerable students at risk, but it also sends the message that they are not worthy of a full life. With this case, we hope to make clear that trans students belong.”  

The lawsuit, Bridge v. Oklahoma State Department of Education, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on behalf of three students, two of whom are high school students in Oklahoma City-area school districts and one student who is attending a public charter school in Oklahoma City. In addition to the OSDE, the lawsuit also names: Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister; six other members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education: State Attorney General John M. O’Connor, Noble Public Schools, Moore Public Schools, Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Harding Independence Charter District, Inc. The plaintiffs include Andy Bridge, 16, a senior at Noble High School just outside of Norman, OK, and his parents Aysha Prather and Eli Bridge. The two other plaintiffs – a high school student and a middle school student – and their families are filing anonymously. 

Plaintiff Andy Bridge said, “I am a boy, and while living authentically hasn’t always been easy, it’s given me a sense of relief and happiness. Being able to use the boys’ restroom might seem like a small thing to others, but it is a vital step in my transition. Being barred from using it leaves me singled out and excluded from the rest of my friends and classmates, but also feeling like I’m being told that I’m not worthy of the same respect and dignity as everyone else.” 

While much of the country has moved on from these gratuitous attacks on trans youth in restrooms, it seems some state legislators are determined to dredge them up again. North Carolina’s passage of a law restricting restroom access in public buildings in 2016 cost the state billions of dollars in lost jobs and revenue and was ultimately blocked in court. 

To Know Your Rights about Bathrooms and Locker Rooms: http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/youth/bathrooms-and-locker-rooms 

The attorneys working on the case include: Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Paul D. Castillo and Staff Attorney Nicholas Guillory; ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Jon W. Davidson and Staff Attorney Taylor Brown; ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Megan Lambert and Staff Attorney Hanna Roberts; and a team of attorneys at Covington & Burling LLP led by partner Mitchell A. Kamin and associate Isaac D. Chaput.  

Stories amplifying attacks on 2SLGBTQ+ people have a measurable negative impact on mental health. We ask that stories covering this topic include information to access 2SLGBTQ+ affirming mental health support, such as Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860), the Trevor Project (call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678), and the LGBT Hotline (888-843-4564).