Should a student be allowed to use a school locker room or restroom designated for classmates of the opposite biological sex?
This question has dominated the debate over transgender rights for several years now, with those answering “no” often citing concerns over the other students’ privacy. Some question the legitimacy of such concerns, accusing those expressing them of being “bigots” who are just trying to make life harder for transgender people by using the excuse of children’s safety and privacy. Yesterday, however, a federal court in Pennsylvania heard those same concerns validated by some of the school children who have become victims of transgender bathroom policies.
Joel Doe, a rising senior at Boyertown Senior High School, and three of his classmates are suing their school district over its transgender policy, which they say allows for sexual harassment and violation of privacy.
Boyertown School District enacted its transgender bathroom policy without warning students or their parents that the labels on locker room and restroom doors would no longer protect children from involuntarily viewing or being viewed by members of the opposite sex.
Last October, after being involuntarily exposed to a biological female who self-identified as a male changing in their locker room, Doe and a few others went to their vice principal’s office to discuss the matter. Doe testified to the court that their vice principal told them that if they wanted to remain at the school, they would “have to tolerate it and make it as natural as possible.”
Doe’s lawsuit asserts that the school district is violating sex discrimination law by “imposing an individual’s subjective perception of their gender on other students who value their privacy based on anatomical differences between the sexes.”
Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Doe, explained that the school district’s policy is a direct violation of Pennsylvania law:
Our laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex. But now some schools are forcing our children into giving up their privacy rights even though, in this case, Pennsylvania law requires schools to have separate facilities on the basis of sex.
Furthermore, as the legal complaint notes, the breach of children’s privacy also violates federal law:
This case is about the intentional violation of a child’s fundamental right to bodily privacy contrary to constitutional and statutory principles, including the Fourteenth Amendment, Title IX, invasion of seclusion, and the Pennsylvania’s Public School Code of 1949, which requires separate facilities on the basis of sex.
Not only does the school’s policy violate numerous legal principles, but it goes against basic common decency principles. Just as no child should be forced to view pornographic images or send a “sext” message, he or she should not be forced to see or be seen by unclothed or scantily clothed members of the opposite sex.
In this case, as in similar transgender bathroom cases, one student’s decision to identify with the other gender is upheld at the expense of all of his or her classmates. LGBT rights activists try to garner support for their position by describing how humiliated transgender students feel when they have to use a restroom which corresponds with their biological sex rather than the one they would like to identify with. But what about the majority of other students who are humiliated by being forced to change in front of members of the opposite sex? The news is filled with sob stories about transgender students who choose not to use public restrooms altogether rather than use the one marked with their biological sex. But what about students like Doe, who now avoids going to the restroom during school hours and failed gym class out of fear of having his privacy violated again in the locker room?
This is a difficult situation which schools across the country have been facing recently. The best solution that has been reached so far seems to be allowing the transgender student use of a specially designated single-person restroom. That way, the transgender student is not forced to share private spaces with those of a sex with which he or she does not identify, and at the same time, other students’ dignity will be respected by giving them a private place where they can feel safe changing or using the restroom.
If he truly wants what is best for all students at Boyertown Senior High School, the district court judge will issue a preliminary injunction blocking the transgender bathroom policy while negotiating an acceptable alternative bathroom situation for transgender students. A solution can be reached, but it must not involve forcing innocent children to share private spaces with members of the opposite sex.
Photo credit: Intel Free Press via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0