The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled in favor of three transgender students who were forbidden by their schools from using bathrooms matching their gender identities. The circuit court upheld a lower court’s preliminary injunction that said the schools have to let trans students use facilities associated with their genders.
“Students who are denied access to the appropriate facilities are caused both serious emotional and physical harm as they are denied recognition of who they are,” said ACLU of Indiana lawyer Kenneth Falk. “They will often avoid using the restroom altogether while in school. Schools should be a safe place for kids and the refusal to allow a student to use the correct facilities can be extremely damaging.”
The case involves three trans boys in Martinsville, Indiana and Terre Haute, Indiana, who need access to the boys’ room at their middle and high schools.
One of the boys, identified as A.C. in court documents, is 13 and knew he was a boy since age eight. When he started seventh grade at John R. Wooden Middle School, his stepfather asked that he be allowed to use the boys’ rooms. The school refused and said that A.C. has to use either the girls’ room or a unisex bathroom in the health clinic.
Since he wasn’t out as trans to his classmates, he didn’t want to use the girls’ room. The only accommodation he got was that he wasn’t punished for tardiness when he used the health clinic bathroom. The school suggested he go entirely to online classes just to keep him out of the boys’ restroom.
He felt “depressed, humiliated, and angry” at school and tried to avoid going to be bathroom, which became a major distraction.
The school district actually had a policy to allow some trans students to use the appropriate bathrooms at the district high school, but they told him they couldn’t accommodate him because he’s in middle school.
The other two plaintiffs are 15-year-old twins B.E. and S.E. at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, who both transitioned socially when they were 11. They both also have a colon condition that requires them to take laxatives and have regular access to bathrooms.
They started using the boys’ restrooms in 2021 and no students had a problem with them doing so, the court documents say. But school employees who knew they were trans admonished them. Their mother met with the vice principal, and she was told that the twins had to use the girls’ facilities or a bathroom in the health office.
Since they weren’t out as trans at school, they worried about upsetting the other girls by using the girls’ facilities, and the health office was often locked during parts of the day and far away. B.E. had an accident once because he couldn’t get to the health office in time.
The school’s transgender bathroom policy took numerous factors into consideration and the school’s administration said that trans students needed unspecified surgical changes before they could use the correct bathroom. Gender-affirming surgery is banned for trans people under the age of 18 in Indiana.
The court took into account the fact that Title IX bans discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal money, which is most of them. Citing the 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton Co. that found that job discrimination against LGBTQ+ people necessarily takes sex into account and is therefore prohibited under Title VII, the appeals court ruled that the trans boys are likely to succeed in their case and that preventing them from using the correct bathroom while the case works its way through the court system could cause irreparable harm.
“Litigation over transgender rights is occurring all over the country, and we assume that at some point the Supreme Court will step in with more guidance than it has furnished so far,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court in her opinion.