Oklahoma students sue over state’s transgender bathroom law

Education

Trans pride flags flutter in the wind at a gathering to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, 2017 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles, California.

(NewsNation) — Three students, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, are suing Oklahoma state officials over a law requiring public school students to use the bathrooms or locker rooms matching the sex on their birth certificate.

Senate Bill 615, which passed overwhelmingly in Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled House and Senate, was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May.

In a news release, the ACLU of Oklahoma said the law singles out transgender students for discriminatory treatment.

One of the student plaintiffs, Andy Bridge, who came out to his family as transgender in the summer of 2020, said in a statement that “being able to use the boy’s 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,” he said.

When excluded from multiple occupancy restrooms, the lawsuit stated, students who are transgender often avoid using the restroom entirely.

“Those who avoid using restrooms at school may suffer infections and other negative health consequences as a result of avoiding being forced to use a restroom that does not align with their gender,” the lawsuit said. Students unable to use the same restrooms of their peers of the same gender are also at greater risk of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and self-harm, per the lawsuit.

School districts could see up to 5% of their annual state funding cut if they let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice under Senate Bill 615, NPR’s State Impact said.

While the legislation and state Board of Education rules require schools provide a “reasonable accommodation” by providing students’ access to single-occupancy bathrooms or changing rooms, these can be stigmatizing and impractical to use because of the distance from the students’ classes, the lawsuit notes, or even out a student as transgender.

The National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American School Counselor Association were cited in the lawsuit as having called upon schools to let transgender students use the same restrooms as their cisgender counterparts.

“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major medical and mental health organizations, there is no evidence that allowing boys and girls who are transgender to use the same restrooms as their cisgender counterparts causes any harm to cisgender students,” the lawsuit said.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the Oklahoma State Department of Education, state superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, six board members from the Oklahoma Board of Education and Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor. The three students’ school districts are also named in the lawsuit.

O’Connor’s press secretary said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

NewsNation has reached out to the Oklahoma State Department of Education for comment as well.

O’Connor, after the legislation’s passage, said in a statement that the legislature has recognized in the past that people have the right to a “reasonable expectation of privacy in locker rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms.”

“Senate Bill 615 is just an application of that basic truth to the public school context,” O’Conner said in a statement after the legislation’s passage, per local news station KOKH. “Nothing can be more reasonable than insisting that a child be allowed to use bathroom facilities or change clothes without the threat of intrusion by a person of the opposite sex.” 

However, organizations such as Human Rights Watch said at the time that the law will endanger transgender children, and undermine their rights to education and privacy.”

Lawsuits filed in other states over similar transgender bathroom legislations have sometimes been successful. As The New York Times reported in 2019, a federal judge in North Carolina approved a settlement prohibiting state government from banning transgender people from using bathrooms in state buildings matching their gender identity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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