ACLU Takes Legal Action Defending Rights of Maryland transgender Students

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion today to defend a Maryland school board’s policies that prevent discrimination, harassment, and stigmatization of transgender and gender nonconforming students in the school system. The policies ensure that transgender students can, among other things, use school facilities in accordance with their gender identity.

A federal lawsuit against the Frederick County School Board was filed anonymously by a non-transgender student and her mother, who claim that allowing transgender students restroom and locker room access infringes upon student privacy rights. However, the only privacy violation alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint was an incident that did not even involve any students that are transgender. The lawsuit also seeks to invalidate policies preventing harassment, and protecting the confidentiality and privacy of transgender students.

The motion to intervene in the pending lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, ACLU of Maryland, and Free State Justice on behalf of James van Kuilenburg, an honor student at Governor Thomas High School who is transgender.

The school board’s policies, adopted in June 2017, were welcomed by community members from all over Frederick County. Van Kuilenburg says that the policies “gave me the ability to finally be myself and access all parts of my education.”

In the wake of the lawsuit, the Frederick County group “Support FCPS Trans Students” has started a social media campaign called #IAmFrederick to show support for their transgender classmates.

According to van Kuilenburg, reversal of the policies would be “devastating.”

“There is an epidemic of trans students feeling unsafe, depressed, and suicidal,” he explained, and a removal of the policies in place to protect them would “create a culture of fear and misunderstanding.”

“It’s important that trans students are given the opportunity to defend themselves against these shameful attempts to isolate and stigmatize them,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. He added, “Schools can and should provide extra privacy protections or private restroom or changing areas for any student who requests it. But no student has a right to demand that transgender students be segregated from their peers.”

“The Frederick County School Board did the right thing: they created policies that affirm and respect their students’ gender identity,” said Jennifer Kent, managing attorney of FreeState Justice. “We intend to vigorously defend these policies in the interests of our client and affected students in Frederick County Public Schools.”

Counsel on the motion to intervene also includes Leslie Cooper and Arkles of the ACLU; David Rocah and Nick Steiner of the ACLU of Maryland; and John Hayes, Brian Whittaker, and Kenneth Nichols of the law firm Nixon Peabody.