FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Feb. 25, 2019
A new lawsuit accuses the Anoka-Hennepin School District and School Board of once again violating the constitutional and civil rights of LGBTQ students. In the lawsuit filed Monday morning in Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District Court, Gender Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit on behalf of a transgender student, N.H. The lawsuit asserts that the school district violated the state constitution’s right to due process and equal protection and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by treating him differently than other students and failing to provide him with an equal and adequate education.
"It's important for me to be a voice for the voiceless and send the message, once again, that discrimination is wrong,” said his mother, J.H. “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. They should never have to question their safety based on their identity.”
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 boys’ locker room. N.H. was singled out and forced to instead use segregated changing facilities no other student was required to use. This discrimination caused N.H. emotional distress and harm.
“Denying N.H. use of the same locker rooms as other boys deprives him of equal access to education, programming and extracurricular activities like sports,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney. “Instead of embracing gender-inclusive policies, the school board and school district chose to discriminate against him and ostracize him based on his gender identity.”
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.
“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 was sued several years ago over similar issues for its discriminatory policies regarding LGBTQ students. That lawsuit alleged that the district allowed uncontrolled bullying and created unequal access to education. Nine students committed suicide in just two years.
The district was still under a five-year consent decree to deal with anti-LGBTQ harassment when they discriminated against the teenage boy in this case for being transgender.
Gender Justice is a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization devoted to addressing the causes and consequences of gender inequality, both locally and nationally. Learn more at www.genderjustice.us.
The ACLU-MN is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.