Watch a previous report on the lawsuit in the video player above.
TIPP CITY, Ohio (WCMH) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by parents backed by a national legal group that challenged an Ohio school district for allowing transgender students to use communal restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
A suit filed by “American First Legal” was denied on Monday that alleged Dayton-area Bethel Local School District violated the religious liberty of 18 anonymous parents and students when a 14-year-old trans student was granted access to use the girls’ restrooms, court documents show. District Judge Michael Newman ruled the organization’s claim lacked standing and the district’s action did not infringe on the parents’ free exercise of religion.
“The [parents] do not have a substantive due process right to dictate to the School District which bathroom a transgender student must use,” Newman wrote in the filing. “The School District’s bathroom policy applies evenly to all students, making no exception for anyone based on their religion, to allow each student’s identified gender to prescribe the bathroom to use.”
Still, American First Legal argued in their complaint that restrooms and other intimate facilities should only be shared by persons of the same biological sex “for a variety of reasons, including safety, privacy, modesty, religion and historical views of sex.” However, a study from the UCLA School of Law found no evidence that allowing trans people to use public facilities that align with their gender identity increases safety risks.
David Carey, Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio, said Monday’s ruling affirms “the Constitution is not a vehicle to compel discrimination” and does not mandate that “transgender students be excluded from gender-appropriate communal restrooms on the basis of their classmates’ beliefs and values.”
“For public schools to function, one student’s or family’s religious beliefs cannot provide a basis to exclude another student from full participation in the school environment,” said Carey.
‘Students would shout transphobic remarks’
The 14-year-old trans student joined Bethel Middle School in January 2020 after enduring bullying and harassment for being transgender at her previous school district in Fairborn, according to court documents. Before stepping foot on campus, the student’s family said they informed the school’s administration that she was trans and opted for single-occupancy restrooms for her safety.
Problems began when the student realized only two of the five single-occupancy restrooms on campus were accessible and caused her to be tardy to class. Using these restrooms also singled her out as trans.
“I started noticing that other students would taunt and harass me for using the ‘sissy bathroom,'” the student wrote in the filing. “Some of the other students would shout transphobic remarks or slurs, refuse to use my preferred pronouns, or ask inappropriate and invasive questions about my body.”
She started holding in her urine and avoided drinking while at school, the filing states. Not using the restroom began negatively affecting her school performance and physical health. During this time, the student had two urinary tract infections and said she felt dehydrated.
A policy change ‘in secret’
After nearly a year of attending Bethel, the student and her mom asked school administrators if she could begin using the girls’ restroom. Court documents state the middle school’s principal told the student in December 2021 that she could start using the girl’s bathroom after winter break.
However, American First Legal writes in the complaint that Bethel’s Board of Education made this change “in secret to avoid community opposition” and announced the new policy at a meeting in January 2022 without public discussion, deliberation, or voting.
The 18 anonymous plaintiffs argued that the new policy violated an Ohio act requiring bodies to conduct official business in public, violated a parent’s right to direct the upbringing of their children, and discriminated against Bethel’s Christian and Muslim students.
Bethel students against the policy “hold their urine and avoid using the restroom at school if at all possible” out of fear “that they will be exposed to the opposite sex,” the document states. The complaint also said forcing Muslim students “to use intimate facilities with members of the opposite biological sex is like forcing them to eat pork.”
“The board is imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of that faith by placing the children in intimate facilities with members of the opposite biological sex,” the complaint states. “Among other things, this directly contradicts their faith on a fundamental moral question and places their children in a situation of compromised modesty.”
According to the ACLU, school officials have allowed all students to use the single-occupancy bathrooms if they feel uncomfortable using the communal restrooms.
An ‘affirming learning environment’ for LGBTQ+ students
Access to the girl’s restroom has been “a turning point” for the now-high school student, who wrote that her grades have improved and she no longer feels like an outcast. She said it would be unfair to her physical health and limit her educational opportunities if she was banned from using the girls’ bathroom.
“I would feel sad that I am being treated like a danger or an outcast, when I have never caused harm to anyone,” she wrote. “It would be especially sad, given how much harassment and even violence I’ve suffered at the hands of classmates because I am transgender.”
Studies show LGBTQ+ youth have difficulty finding acceptance at school and home. Only 55% of LGBTQ+ youth said their school is affirming, and only 37% said their home is affirming, according to The Trevor Project. The research consistently finds that LGBTQ+ young people report lower rates of attempting suicide when they have access to safe spaces.
“Today’s ruling is an amazing victory for [the trans student], all transgender students like her, and all Bethel Area students who deserve a safe and affirming learning environment,” said Malita Picasso, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “No student should have to fear discriminatory treatment every morning they walk into school, and this ruling brings us closer to the day no transgender student has to.”
Newman’s filing comes a week after U.S. District Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley rejected a preliminary injunction by “Parents Defending Education” that aimed to prohibit Olentangy Local School District from enforcing anti-harassment policies for transgender students.
View Newman’s full ruling below.