Lambda Legal: Transgender Students Should Get to Use Restrooms While Case Proceeds

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December 1, 2016

“Senior year only happens once. Juliet, Elissa and A.S. only want to graduate knowing that their school respects them for who they are. Let them enjoy this year free from harassment, and from the stigma of a discriminatory policy that is demeaning, degrading, and unlawful.”

-Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney

(Pittsburgh, PA, Dec. 1, 2016) – Today Lambda Legal argued in federal district court that the Pine-Richland School District in suburban Pittsburgh should immediately suspend enforcement of a discriminatory policy that singles out transgender students and prevents them from using restrooms that match who they are. The school’s new rule – which reversed a longstanding, effective and inclusive restroom practice in the district – has sparked outrage nationwide and led three transgender students to file a lawsuit against the school district in federal court last month.

“The passage of this fear-based policy sent a terrible message to the whole school community that marked Juliet, Elissa and A.S. as students who are different and somehow not worthy of a safe and equal learning environment,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “Senior year only happens once. Juliet, Elissa and A.S. only want to graduate knowing that their school respects them for who they are. Let them enjoy this year free from harassment, and the stigma of a discriminatory policy that is demeaning, degrading, and unlawful.”

The targeting of LGBT-inclusive policies and practices by anti-LGBT organizations is not unique to Pine-Richland and is playing out across the country. North Carolina’s controversial discriminatory law, H.B. 2, passed in response to the city of Charlotte’s adoption of an inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance, is the most notable example, but there have been similar efforts in Mississippi, Texas and elsewhere. Lambda Legal is also counsel in the federal case challenging H.B. 2.

In early October, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit, Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, on behalf of Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour and A.S., a third transgender student at Pine-Richland High School who is a minor and identified by his initials. It argues that Pine-Richland’s newly adopted discriminatory restroom policy and practice sends a purposeful message that transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded to other students.

The lawsuit was filed after the Pine-Richland School Board in September voted to reverse the School District’s longstanding, inclusive restroom practice in response to pressure from anti-LGBT groups and individuals. The vote followed months of controversy, during which Lambda Legal sent a letter to the district on behalf of several Pine-Richland transgender students, urging officials and the school board to reject the misinformation and to continue treating transgender students equally. Lambda Legal attorneys sent additional letters and were present at several school board meetings.

“Every day I feel like I’m walking on eggshells when I come to school,” Juliet said. “It’s not right to be made to feel that way just for being who I am.”

“Everything was fine at school, for years I was accepted for who I am, before some parents decided to make a fuss,” Elissa added. “We just need it to go back to the way it was, when there was no problem.”

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania heard oral argument today on Lambda Legal’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, seeking to halt enforcement of the discriminatory restroom policy while the lawsuit proceeds and to allow these students to use the restroom at school, as any student should. The district court also heard argument on the school district’s motion to dismiss the case.

The Motion for Preliminary Injunction is here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/evancho_pa_20161020_motion-for-preliminary-injunction

The case is Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District. Read the complaint here:  http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/evancho_pa_20161006_complaint

Watch our video about Juliet and Elissa here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGfsNUcDQ_Q

Read our earlier advocacy letter here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/20160418_letter-re-pine-richland-transgender

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

Lambda Legal attorneys Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Christopher Clark and Kara N. Ingelhart are the lead attorneys on the case, joined by local counsel Tracie Palmer and David C. Williams with Kline & Specter, P.C.


Contact Info

Press contact:  Tom Warnke, Cell: 213-841-4503: Email: twarnke@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.