Metro Weekly

Pittsburgh-area school district argues against protections for trans students

Pine-Richland School District argues Title IX and 14th Amendment do not protect gender identity discrimination

Photo: Pine-Richland School District.
Photo: Pine-Richland School District.

A suburban Pittsburgh school district has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of three transgender students who wish to use the restrooms that match their gender identity.

Lawyers for the three students — Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour and A.S. — filed suit after the district reversed a longstanding policy that allowed transgender students to use the restrooms that comport with their gender identity. But after the Obama administration issued guidelines recommending that schools across the nation adopt policies similar to the one already in place in Pine-Richland, parents and conservative activists pressured the district to restrict transgender students to using single-stall facilities or restrooms that match their biological sex at birth.

The school district asked that the lawsuit against it be dismissed because the transgender students are not protected by either the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. In essence, because neither explicitly mentions transgender people as a class deserving of protection, the district argues, schools and administrators can force the students to adhere to its new policy.

The request to dismiss the case comes after Lambda Legal filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the school district. If the court grants the injunction, the three seniors — one male and two female — will be able to use the restrooms appropriate for their gender identity while the case is being litigated. But if the court declines to grant an injunction, or dismisses the case outright, the district will be able to ban the students from the boys’ and girls’ restrooms, respectively. 

“The hard-line stance taken by the Pine-Richland School District shows how far the School District has strayed from its mission to educate and serve all its students,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“The School District’s argument is shameful and could have dire consequences for the safety and security of transgender students,” he added. “Schools should be a place where all students feel safe and able to fully participate in their education.  Today, transgender people, and in particular transgender youth, are feeling vulnerable and exposed. With its filing today, the Pine-Richland School District has turned its back on transgender students and told its student body that discrimination is ok. That is not only wrong, it is unlawful.”

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