Lambda Legal Files Suit against Suburban Pittsburgh School District for Discriminating Against Transgender Students

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“Forcing transgender students to use separate restrooms—after they had been using appropriate facilities for years without incident—is not just unnecessary, it also harms and stigmatizes them."
October 6, 2016

(New York, October 6, 2016) — Lambda Legal today filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Pine-Richland School District in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for implementing a new policy on restroom and locker room access that singles out transgender students for discriminatory treatment.

"After years of allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that match their identity, last month the school board for the Pine-Richland School District caved to outside pressure and unfounded fears. By voting to reverse the district’s longstanding inclusive restroom practice and to restrict the rights of transgender students, the school board has violated federal law and imposed harm upon Pine-Richland’s transgender students,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said. “Forcing transgender students to use separate restrooms—after they had been using the appropriate facilities for years without incident—is not just unnecessary, it also harms and stigmatizes them. The Pine-Richland school board should be watching out for the safety and well-being of all its students, but through their discriminatory actions they have failed Pine-Richland’s transgender students. No transgender student, anywhere, should be treated like a second-class person.”

Last month’s vote followed months of controversy after anti-LGBT groups and individuals took aim at the Pine-Richland School District’s longstanding inclusive restroom practice. In March, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the district on behalf of several Pine-Richland transgender students, urging district officials and the school board to reject the misinformation and to continue treating transgender students equally. Since then, Lambda Legal attorneys sent additional letters and have been present at several school board meetings.

The targeting of LGBT-inclusive and affirming 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 anti-LGBT law, HB 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, Houston and elsewhere.

Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pine-Richland High School seniors Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour and A.S., a minor identified by his initials. In the complaint, Lambda Legal argues that Pine-Richland’s newly-adopted discriminatory restroom policy sends a purposeful message that transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded to other students.
“I was shocked and appalled when I learned about the vote to adopt the new restroom policy. For years, I have used the girls’ restroom without incident,” said Elissa Ridenour. “Now, I feel constantly under surveillance. I’m a girl. But I’m expected to use the boys’ room? Or to use some ‘separate’ bathroom that no one else has to use? How is that fair?”

“The day after the vote, it felt different in school: I felt exposed and vulnerable,” added Juliet Evancho. “I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home. But then my classmates nominated me for homecoming queen, showing that they know, accept and respect me for who I am. So, why can’t everyone else? Why make an issue where there isn’t one?”

The complaint argues that the school district’s new policy is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, by discriminating on the basis of sex and gender identity. The policy also violates Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

"The District’s previous policy of fostering a safe environment for all its students, with a trans-inclusive restroom practice, worked well for years,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “Transgender students already face so many challenges – they shouldn’t have to be disrespected and degraded while at school, too.”

Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/yGfsNUcDQ_Q

Sign the petition here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/transstudents

Read Lambda Legal’s complaint here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/evancho_pa_20161006_compl...

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

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

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

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Contact Info

Tom Warnke; Cell: 213-841-4503; Email: twarnke@lambdalegal.org

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