A South Carolina school district that suspended a transgender male student for using the boys’ bathroom has reversed course, agreeing to allow the student to use facilities that correspond with his gender identity.
Horry County Schools announced its reversal of its earlier decision a week after the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center wrote a demand letter blasting the school system for suspending R., a student at Socastee High School, and threatening legal action if the policy governing transgender students’ restroom use was not changed.
R. had been using the boys’ bathroom since middle school, without incident. But when he began his senior year, school administrators demanded that he either use the girls’ restroom or the nurse’s bathroom, a unisex bathroom that was far from where his classes were held. R. was later suspended after a teacher followed him to the boys’ bathroom and reported him to school administrators. R. soon left school and transferred to an online school in order to complete his senior year.
According to the superintendent of Horry County Schools, if the student, R., returns to school, he and other transgender students will be allowed to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. R.’s suspension will be removed from his school record and the district will inform faculty and staff to use pronouns consistent with transgender students’ gender identities and update classroom attendance rosters with a student’s preferred name.
“We are so grateful and excited about this outcome, and that my son might now be able to walk across the stage and graduate with his class,” said Lynne, R.’s mother. “While this doesn’t erase the harm done to my son, it means a lot to us that no other student in the district will have to go through what my son went through.”
“I’m thrilled the district is changing its policy because for me this was always about all the younger transgender students who might not have the same support or ability to fight back like I did,” R. said in a statement. “We’re in school to learn, and we should be able to use the bathroom when we need to without worrying about a teacher following us or policing which bathroom we use.”
The decision by Horry County Schools marks the first time a school district has changed its policy following a recent decision issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where a transgender student in Virginia is suing over his school district’s policy requiring transgender people to use only facilities that match their biological sex at birth, or some “alternative, private” facility.
In its decision, the court reversed a lower court’s rejection of a preliminary injunction and restored part of the student’s lawsuit that the lower court had previously thrown out. According to legal experts, the 4th Circuit has essentially made it clear to the lower court that it has no choice but to allow the lawsuit to proceed, and eventually strike down the “biological sex-only” policy currently in place. That decision also sets a “binding precedent” for states within the 4th Circuit, including South Carolina.
“We thank Horry County Schools for finally turning around and doing the right thing by committing to treat transgender students fairly,” said Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. “It is both illegal and wrong to ban transgender students from using the restroom matching the gender they live as every day. The law is clear, and we expect other districts to follow their lead and fall in line — or face the legal consequences.”